JONESBORO — A federal judge is withholding a decision on whether a Jonesboro police officer is entitled to qualified immunity for killing a criminal suspect back in 2015.
Chris Finley, father of Christopher Grant Finley, claims officer Heath Loggains used excessive force when he fired multiple gunshots inside his son’s home on Walnut Street on April 14, 2015. The lawsuit was filed in May 2018.
A trial in the civil case is scheduled for June 7 in Jonesboro.
Chief U.S. District Judge D.P. Marshall Jr. recently dismissed Police Chief Rick Elliott as a defendant and found in the city’s favor regarding Finley’s claim the city failed to train officers how to deal with people with mental illness, saying he saw “no defect” in the department’s policy.
However, because of contradictory testimony about what happened shortly before Finley died, Marshall said he would not decide just yet whether Loggains is entitled to qualified immunity.
Qualified immunity is an established doctrine that usually prevents government officials, including police officers, from being held individually liable for illegal acts.
“These disputes prevent the Court from making a final ruling on qualified immunity until a jury decides what actually happened,” Marshall wrote on Feb. 22.
Police said they were looking to arrest Grant Finley, 31, because of a complaint police received from a 26-year-old woman the day before. She told police Finley attacked her and held her captive because “she was not cleaning the house fast enough,” the police report said.
Loggains participated in the initial report of the assault.
Detectives sent out an email to all officers to try to arrest Finley for the assault. A short time later, an officer in the warrants division told fellow officers by email that Finley had recently been before a judge, who ordered Finley screened for admission to a mental health facility.
Loggains claimed in pretrial testimony, known as a deposition, that he didn’t recall receiving that second email about Finley’s mental health, but he was aware of habitual drug use and erratic behavior.
Loggains was not on duty when police received a complaint the next evening that Finley was screaming, yelling and holding a baseball bat in his yard. Finley’s father went to the home and promised to surrender his son the next morning. Responding officers determined there was no imminent danger, and left.
But Loggains began his shift at 10 p.m., about an hour later. Loggains and two other officers decided – apparently without supervisors’ knowledge – to do a stakeout, intending to arrest Finley if he came out of the house. While Loggains hid in the bushes in front of the house, one officer was sitting in his patrol car down the street and another officer watched the back of the house.
As the officers watched, a friend of Finley’s arrived and Finley came outside to talk. But the friend, Kevin Jackson, testified he told Finley police were in the area, and warned he needed to go back inside. Jackson said Finley waved his machete around and said, “they can’t hold me.”
As the judge explained in his order, Loggains didn’t see the machete or hear the conversation, but “sprang from the bushes, and ran toward Finley, calling him by name and yelling for him to get on the ground.” Finley managed to get inside and shut the door.
Jackson, Finley’s friend, claimed Finley slammed and dead-bolted his front door. Jackson claimed Loggains, unable to open the door, stepped back, pulled his pistol and fired 14 shots through the door.
Loggains claimed he kicked the door several times and got it open “a foot or so.
“He and Finley were so close, he says, they were breathing the same air,” the judge wrote.
Loggains got his arm inside the door and Finley struck Loggains’s arm with the blunt side. That’s when Loggains contends he fired the shots.
Depending on which version the jury believes, the judge said the circumstances presented a standoff, not imminent danger, or there was imminent danger and Loggains was justified in shooting Finley.