Francis Paul Ripp has filed a lawsuit asking a judge to direct Sheriff Huey “Hoss” Mack to enforce the State Health Order that prohibits indoor dining, religious services, and businesses like hair salons. Ripp seeks a Writ of Mandamus to instruct Mack to enforce the order, which was authorized by Alabama Governor Kay Ivey and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris on April 28. The lawsuit alleges that Mack’s decision not to enforce the order appears to be politically motivated, creating an immediate public health crisis in Baldwin County.
The Alabama Supreme Court ruled against Lagniappe’s use of the state’s Open Records Act to access law enforcement records related to the May 2017 shooting of Jonathan Victor by a deputy of the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office. Despite the newspaper’s efforts to seek the records, the court upheld the denial, considering the records exempt as “law enforcement investigative files” owned by the Baldwin County Major Crimes Unit, which investigates officer-involved shootings.
Hearing will determine fate of BCSO wrongful death case (March 10, 2021)
By Gabriel Tynes - Lagniappe
Additional video and audio captured during a deadly officer-involved shooting in 2017 have been submitted to the federal court as part of a wrongful death lawsuit against Baldwin County Sheriff Huey “Hoss” Mack and Deputy Matt Hunady, augmenting a library of information from the incident the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) has previously declined to disclose.
Jonathan Victor, a 35-year-old salesman from Louisiana, was involved in a single-car accident on Interstate 10 east of the Wilcox exit on May 12, 2017. Witnesses and paramedics who initially arrived on scene described Victor as bleeding and acting erratically when they attempted to provide assistance, and they grew increasingly concerned when he ordered them to go away while clutching “something” in his hands.
Hunady and other deputies arrived, responding to a call for a “possibly armed subject” who was barricaded in his car. Hunady grabbed his service rifle and took a defensive position behind a fire truck, spending the next several minutes attempting to coax Victor from the vehicle. Once Victor emerged, Hunaday gave dozens of orders to Victor to drop what was in his hands.
But according to witnesses, Victor failed to comply and instead advanced upon the deputies while maintaining a “shooter’s stance.” As Victor continued to approach, Hunady eventually fired four shots from roughly seven yards away, hitting Victor three times. It was later determined Victor was holding an article of clothing and a fanny pack. There were no weapons found in his vehicle.
Subsequently, Lagniappe filed a public records request with BCSO to obtain access to body cameras and other video footage from the scene, but was denied in Baldwin County Circuit Court. BCSO claimed the material was in the custody of the Baldwin County Major Crimes Unit, and it was exempt from public records laws because they were investigative documents.
Upon appeal, the newspaper argued before the Alabama Supreme Court last summer for the release of those public records. The paper is still awaiting a ruling. But in the meantime, attorneys for both the defendants and the plaintiff, Victor’s mother, have submitted the files into the federal court record.
In January, Lagniappe published three of the videos BCSO previously withheld from the public records request, but subsequently submitted to the court along with a motion for summary judgment in the case. The combined hour-and-a-half worth of footage did not show a clear view of the shooting, but captured all communication leading up to and immediately after the incident.
Call logs between dispatchers for 911 and BCSO revealed the true nature of the call was never clearly conveyed, and Hunady never communicated to Victor that he was suspected of having a weapon or that deputies were prepared to use deadly force. Additional evidence reveals Hunady had less-lethal options at his disposal including a Taser and K9 unit. Depositions filed in the case indicate some witnesses were uncertain about Victor being armed, although most eventually conceded he “looked like he could be holding a weapon.”
Late last month, the plaintiffs filed an additional body cam video from Deputy Daniel Middleton, which appears to show a slightly different narrative than Middleton provided in a sworn statement the day after the shooting. In his statement, Middleton said although his visual perspective was obstructed at times, just prior to the shooting he observed Victor “holding something that appeared to be wrapped around his right hand.”
“After several more verbal commands, the male made an advancement toward Cpl. Hunady and I in a threatening manner. Cpl. Hunady moved between me and the male firing about four rounds from his rifle, striking the male. I attempted to shift for a clear shot and once a clear shot was obtained the male was down and the item was no longer in his hand.”
But Middleton’s body camera video appears to show he remained behind the fire truck until the moment the shooting started. As Victor is being handcuffed, a voice can be heard asking, “What are you doing? Why would you do that?” But it is not clear whether the question is being directed to Victor or someone else.
After the scene is secured, Middleton works traffic control while Hunady helps administer first aid.
In a new piece of audio evidence, the plaintiffs admitted a call between 911 dispatchers advising EMS crews to “step away” from Victor while he was acting erratically, but expressing concern that deputies would arrive and escalate the situation.
“We want [EMS] to step out of the situation,” the dispatcher said. “We’re not asking you to drive away, we’re asking you to back up. On the other hand, we don’t want the police arriving and drawing guns with [Victor] being unsecured with a head injury and grabbing his baby blanket.”
Mack and Hunady have claimed qualified immunity in the pending motion for summary judgment, arguing wrongful death is not a viable claim because no law was broken and Hunady’s use of force was “objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.”
“The job of law enforcement officers is tireless and thankless, and officers should not be second-guessed at every opportunity,” the defendants argued in a reply Feb. 22. “This case especially calls for qualified immunity because Matthew Hunady was thrust into a no-win situation. While the result is tragic, and it is discomforting to point to the actions of the deceased, the ultimate result was dictated by the unpredictable actions of Jonathan Victor.”
But the plaintiffs believe Victor “was an innocent victim who was senselessly and unnecessarily shot and killed” by Hunady.
“Defendants’ motion for summary judgment reads like a movie script — this individual barricaded himself in his vehicle with a weapon then, when he finally exited, he took a shooter’s stance, he threatened EMTs and responding deputies (and other members of the public), and he advanced on deputies,” attorney Samuel Tenenbaum, who represents the plaintiffs, wrote in a memo. “Nothing could be further from the truth. This was not a movie. Indeed, the video evidence, photographic evidence, and testimony in this case clearly and overwhelmingly contradict the defendants’ cherry-picked facts.”
A hearing on the motion has not yet been scheduled. Video and audio submitted in the case accompany this article on lagniappemobile.com.