Judge: Criminal charges will fail against officers in death
COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) _ A federal judge says he isn't halting a wrongful death lawsuit against three Columbus police officers, despite their concerns that the district attorney is seeking to indict them on criminal charges, because he doesn't believe they can be successfully prosecuted for a crime.
U.S. District Judge Clay Land on Thursday denied the stay request from officers Michael Aguilar, Brian Dudley, and Aaro Evrard.
They sought a postponement after Muscogee County District Attorney Mark Jones named private attorney Christopher Breault as a special prosecutor investigating the death of Hector Arreola, who died in a struggle with officers in 2017. Jones said he hoped Breault would be ready to present the case for possible indictment during the current court term, which ends in two months.
The officers' attorneys argued the criminal investigation hampers their defense in the civil suit, saying they could testify if they weren't compelled to use their Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination.
Arreola died during an arrest for disorderly conduct. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation's initial autopsy report found that Arreola died from methamphetamine toxicity. But the agency amended the report last year to say Arreola died by homicide. The amendment changed the cause of death to ``sudden cardiac death following a struggle with law enforcement including prone position restraint complicating acute methamphetamine toxicity.''
The lawsuit alleges the cardiac arrest resulted from brain damage caused by the force the officers used in restraining him.
Land wrote that the statute of limitations has run out on all possible state charges except murder, and that the evidence he has seen shows it's unlikely that prosecutors could prove that officers acted with premeditated malice or that they killed Arreola while committing a separate felony. Those are the grounds for murder under Georgia law.
``The facts underlying this action and the expiration of the statute of limitations on all charges except murder strongly militate against criminal charges ever being made,'' Land wrote.
NAACP leaders in Columbus have likened Arreola's death to that of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Columbus NAACP branch President Wane Hailes has said Arreola said 16 times that he couldn't breathe as an officer sat on him for more than two minutes while Arreola was handcuffed.
The officers were placed on administrative leave during an investigation, but have returned to duty.
District Attorney Mark Jones told WRBL-TV that he respects Land's ruling, but that the case should be heard by a grand jury.
Jim Clark, a lawyer representing the officers and the city, said in a statement that ``we agree with the Court that there is no good faith basis for presenting this case to a grand jury.''
Arreola family attorney Mark Post said the family agrees with the ruling and he looks forward to starting a civil trial on Aug. 9
By The Associated Press, Copyright 2019