MECKLENBURG COUNTY, NC (Michael Gordon/Charlotte Observer) - A Mecklenburg County jury awarded a $100,000 judgment to the family of a mentally ill Charlotte man fatally shot by a police officer in 2013.
In Tuesday's verdict, the jury unanimously found negligence in the death of Spencer Mims III, who died after a brief confrontation with two Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers.
After a weeklong trial, the jurors deliberated for less than a day.
"The family is very grateful that the jury found negligence in Spencer's death and they hope that the verdict will help the City and police see if they are adequately training people to deal with those in a mental crisis," said attorney Luke Largess., the Charlotte attorney who filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the officer and the City of Charlotte for the dead man's family.
In closing arguments last week, attorneys for Mims described the dead man as a loving son and uncle who was triggered into a fatal 2013 confrontation with police on the front porch of his southwest Charlotte home by the negligence of officers Jeremy Donaldson and Michael Whitlock.
Defense attorneys, meanwhile, said Mims had a violent streak. On the night of his death, they said, Mims compounded his lifelong psychological struggles by getting drunk, ignoring direct orders from police, then approaching one of the officers with a deadly weapon that he refused to put down.
Donaldson, who became a Charlotte-Mecklenburg officer less than a year before the shooting, fired the fatal shots. He and the City of Charlotte were named as defendants in the lawsuit.
Both Donaldson and fellow officer Michael Whitlock were cleared of any wrongdoing by CMPD and the Mecklenburg County District Attorney's Office.
On the night of his death, according to testimony, Mims had grown despondent over the playoff loss of his favorite NFL team. His father, longtime Myers Park High School orchestra teacher Spencer Mims Jr., testified that he left the house he shared with his son in hopes the younger Mims would calm down. Two hours later, the father arranged to meet with police outside the home so he could get some clothes to spend the night elsewhere.
Police found the younger Mims sitting on the darkened porch with a box-cutter to his own throat. When Donaldson told him to drop the blade, Mims asked the officer to kill him instead, the officer said.
According to testimony, the encounter quickly spun out of control when Donaldson approached Mims on the porch while Whitlock, in the front yard, jockeyed for a clear shot with his Taser. When Whitlock fired, one prong hit Mims in the right elbow while the other slammed into the house, testimony showed. Thus, Mims was not shocked.
Donaldson, who rushed Mims in an attempt to handcuff him after Whitlock's shot, told the jury he retreated when he realized the tasing had not worked. He backed into a corner on the other side of the porch, pulling his weapon and ordered Mims to stop. He said he opened fire when Mims kept coming with the box-cutter held aloft.