An attorney for two men who were shot by police in Park Plaza mall's parking deck in late 2011 has asked a federal judge to allow a trial over the shooting to proceed next month as scheduled.
Last month, attorneys for the city and the mall asked U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson to grant summary judgment to them and dismiss the case. They argued that the plaintiffs' excessive-force allegations against officer Christopher Johannes, who was working as off-duty security for the mall, are unsupported by the facts.
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But attorney Willard Proctor Jr., who represents the two men who were wounded by Johannes' bullets and another who was with them but escaped injury, insisted in a written response that there are factual disputes about the shooting that must be decided by a jury.
"At best, when he fired his gun, he only knew that a white female had been approached by a black male or males," Proctor wrote. "Armed with that, he fired his duty weapon in the Park Plaza Mall parking lot supposedly to stop a threat which he created when he approached the car."
As a result, Keith Pettus, a front-seat passenger in a car being backed out of a parking space, was shot in the face, and the driver, Joseph P. Williams, was shot in the back. Johnnie Campbell, who was in the back seat, escaped injury.
Proctor wrote that "the bullet is still lodged in Mr. Pettus' face. Mr. Williams continues to suffer from his wounds. Summary judgment should not be granted in this case because genuine issues of material fact remain to be litigated."
The shooting occurred about 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 27, 2011, as Johannes approached the 2006 Chevrolet Malibu, which was in a parking space on the mall's lower level. Police said Johannes was assisting mall security officers to whom a shopper had reported that the men asked her 17-year-old daughter to get in the car with them.
The city contends that Johannes fired 12 shots at the Malibu because it was backing out of the space at high speed after Johannes told the driver to stop. Johannes feared that he and an unarmed mall security officer, Sara Hawkins, were in the path of the fleeing vehicle and might be struck, the city contends.
The car then changed direction and crashed into a wall of the parking deck, and the three men got out and ran, police said. This was despite Williams having been shot four times in the back and Pettus being grazed by a bullet on his face, according to court documents.
Johannes apprehended Williams and the other two men stopped running, the city has acknowledged. Attorneys for the city say the reason Williams tried to back out quickly after seeing the uniformed officer and the security officer approach was because he had drugs and guns in the car.
Police found two plastic bags of cocaine and about $2,400 cash during a pat-down of Williams, and Xanax, other pills and two pistols inside the car, they reported.
Proctor argued that Johannes' actions that day "were not objectively reasonable. He did not have probable cause to shoot 12 times."
He also argued that Johannes put himself in a dangerous position in the way he approached the backing-out car, and that there are questions "about the sufficiency of the warning that Officer Johannes gave to Joseph Williams."
After his release from the hospital, Williams pleaded guilty to drug and gun charges, and was returned to prison. Now 36, he remains in prison, according to electronic records at the Arkansas Department of Correction. The records say he won't be eligible for parole until 2023.
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A jury trial is scheduled 10/9/2018 at 9:30 AM in Little Rock Courtroom # A401 before Judge Billy Roy Wilson.