Judge Roy Payne has just awarded $6.3 million to the family of William Livezey Jr.; a man who died of a heart attack while he was being arrested by an off-duty cop in Malakoff, Texas in December, 2013.
In 2014, Livezey’s widow and his four adult children had filed a lawsuit against the arresting officer, Ernesto Fierro, his police chief, Billy Mitchell, and the city of Malakoff. However, Mitchell and the City of Malakoff were eventually dropped from the complaint, and Fierro will have to pay the total judgment on his own.
Fierro has also been forced to surrender his Texas peace officer's license. According to a spokesperson for the family, “The main concern of the family was to make sure (Fierro) was never a peace officer again. They wanted to make sure he wouldn’t have the opportunity for anything like this to happen again.”
The originating incident had been referenced in the press as a case of “road rage death.” According to witness reports, the officer had been trying to run Livezey off the road with his motorcycle. Livezey had been driving a truck. At the time, the victim had been hauling decorative wood products which he bought and sold during his retirement years.
Although Fierro claimed it was Livezey who was trying to run him off the road, witnesses testified against the former cop’s version of the incident. Fierro, who was off-duty at the time, had proceeded to arrest Livezey, who suffered a heart attack while being handcuffed.
Although other officers who were summoned to the scene immediately took Livezey to a hospital, the man died, possibly in connection with the stress of the arrest and Fierro’s alleged harassment.
Fierro was indicted in February on charges of aggravated assault, official oppression, and reckless driving. He has been on administrative leave ever since the indictment.
The officer had had at least two previous hit-and-run incidents while in the police force. However, he had managed to keep his job, though he had once resigned from his post following the launch of an internal investigation into some of his on-duty accidents.
Fierro should have never had a badge in the first place. He was known for his reckless driving, which often endangered the lives of others on the road. But it took Livezey’s death to have him removed from the police force.
Unfortunately, death in custody while being arrested by a police officer of questionable ethics is not at all uncommon in the US. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics most recent survey, there were 4,813 arrest-related deaths in the US between 2003 and 2009. Of these, 60% were “classified as homicides by law enforcement personnel.” 11% of the people who died during the process of arrest committed suicide, 11% were fatally intoxicated, 6% died from an accidental injury, and 5% of natural causes.
“In three-quarters (75%) of homicides by law enforcement personnel, the underlying offense of arrest was a violent offense. No criminal charges were intended in less than 2% of these incidents,” the Arrest-Related Deaths (ARD) program reports.
Before Livezey’s, the case of Freddie Gray has been emblematic to the cause. The 25-year-old Baltimore resident died in police custody in April, 2015. His death has now been ruled a homicide perpetrated by law enforcement officers.
Unfortunately, data collection for this type of episodes has proved extremely difficult for the organizations charged with the task.“Current ARD program methodology does not allow a census of all law enforcement homicides in the United States,” researchers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics have concluded.
With or without proper quantitative assessments, this type of death in custody continues to occur in the US. The families of individuals who have died in the process of being arrested have a right to sue individual officers, their superiors, and local administrations.
Although nobody can bring their loved ones back, those who have taken lives must be held accountable, whether they wear a badge or not.
If your family has lost someone to police excess, neglect or some other cause, our lawyers and investigators can help find out what really happened and file a civil rights violation lawsuit to expose the misconduct and collect a compensation award for your family.
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