The family of a man killed by a Greenville Police Department officer in 2019 viewed a video of the incident for a second time on Friday as Greenville officials work to have the case dismissed.
Family members of Sean Rambert Jr. viewed body camera footage from the shooting at the Pitt County District Attorney’s Office on Friday afternoon. Pitt County NAACP President Calvin Henderson confirmed the development at the Pitt County Courthouse while the viewing was taking place at 3:15 p.m.
A wrongful death civil suit filed by Rambert’s parents in February said officer David Johnson never identified himself as a police officer during the early morning episode in July 2019 and failed to utilize non-lethal techniques after Rambert charged him and did not heed commands to get down.
It said video footage from Johnson’s body camera showed he fired four separate volleys at Rambert over 26 seconds. A total of 10 shots were fired hitting him seven times, it said. Rambert, who was not armed, was lying on his back on the ground prior to the last two shots, “clearly struggling to sit up from the serious wounds inflicted by the first three volleys of gunfire.”
The suit said that Rambert was having a schizophrenic episode when he was shot by Johnson. He was 23-years-old.
Rambert was shot after Johnson responded to a call of a breaking and entering attempt in the 2200 block of Brookville Drive, in the Cobblestone neighborhood off of Allen Road. Police at that time said he was shot during a struggle with Johnson.
The civil suit is currently being litigated under U.S. District Judge Louise Flanagan, according to Cate Edwards, attorney for the Rambert family. Edwards said via telephone on Thursday that the defense for Johnson and the City of Greenville has filed a motion for summary judgment following discoveries.
“The defense argues that evidence came forward saying that plaintiff cannot prove a case in front of a reasonable jury,” Edwards explained. “It is an attempt to have the case dismissed.”
Edwards said the defense hinges on Johnson’s body camera footage being enough to offer him qualified immunity as a law enforcement officer. Qualified immunity was signed into law by the Supreme Court in 1967. According to Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, qualified immunity is a type of legal immunity granting a government official protection from lawsuits alleging that the official violated a plaintiff’s rights, only allowing suits where officials violated a “clearly established” statutory or constitutional right.
When determining whether a right was clearly established, courts consider whether a hypothetical reasonable official would have known that the defendant’s conduct violated the plaintiff’s rights.
Edwards said that she considers qualified immunity a hot topic. As of now, she and Rambert’s family have not presented evidence. Only the body cam footage and altered versions of it have been presented. Judge Flanagan is also allowing Johnson’s deposition by the State Bureau of Investigation following the shooting to be brought forth.
“Part of the problem in qualified immunity is a defendant can question even being litigated,” Edwards said. “The officer is attempting to escape the litigation process.”
Edwards said that there could be a hearing prior to Flanagan ruling on the motion for summary judgement. A hearing has been held on the motion to stay discoveries in the case.
Attempts to seek comment from the Greenville City Attorney’s Office were unsuccessful.