A court is tasked with deciding whether a wrongful death suit should be dismissed regarding the death of Christie Cathers, who allegedly tried to run over sheriff deputies when they shot and killed her. The named defendants include the Monongalia County Homeland Security Emergency Management Agency, Sheriff Al Kisner, and the Monongalia County Commission & Sheriff's Department. The defendants are accused of negligence and exerting excessive force leading to wrongful death. Gregory Farmerie, Cathers' father, filed the claim in 2016, which also cited a department failure in officer training. Judge Thomas Bidell is presiding in the matter.
Details of the Incident
According to Farmerie, her estate administrator, Cathers' husband called 911 one day prior to the incident stating his wife was missing. He told 911 operators that she had an unstable state of mind. The claim says that 911 later received a call about a woman wielding a knife, who was possibly intoxicated and driving a grey Dodge Avenger. Two officers encountered Cathers' stopped vehicle on Harner Run Road and as one deputy approached, she suddenly drove the vehicle just past him. A second deputy responded by fired several shots at her vehicle as she sped away. The deputies pursued her and eventually, both vehicles were approaching each another head-on. Deputies fired several shots at her vehicle that hit her, and her car slowly moved forward and lightly struck the officer's vehicle.
Criminal Findings & Motion for Dismissal
The Sheriff's Office reported a grand jury heard details of the incident for potential criminal charges and found the shooting was justifiable. They returned a ruling of a “no true bill”, meaning there were no indications of criminal wrongdoing. The plaintiff's motion for dismissal cites that the deputies acted in a reasonable manner and did not violate her rights under the constitution. Also, the motion stated that their acts were within the normal scope of employment duties and were neither willful, wanton or executed in bad faith. It referenced West Virginia law explaining the deputies had no specific legal duty owed to Cathers, rather their duty is for the protection of the general public, not any one individual.
Sheriff Kinser acknowledged that parties have the right to bring civil actions regardless of the outcomes of criminal proceedings. The Sheriff, the Sheriff's Department, and Monongalia County Homeland Security Emergency Management all assert that they are not subject to vicarious liability for the actions of the deputies. They explained that these actions were intentional and government entities cannot be deemed liable for intentional acts of employees. Further, the Sheriff's Department should not be held liable for employee actions according to the state's Governmental Tort Claims and Insurance Reform Act.
The State Code contains the provisions of the Act, which was enacted to reduce liability of political entities and control the costs of insurance coverage. This law shields governmental bodies from civil action stemming from injuries, fatalities, or property losses connected to government functions.