WALKER COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — The family of a man who was shot and killed by a deputy earlier this year is now suing the Walker County Sheriff’s Office for his death.
On Wednesday, the family of Frederick Earl Hight Jr. filed a federal lawsuit against Walker County Sheriff Nick Smith and Deputy John “JJ” Jackson, who shot Hight at his home in the Empire community Feb. 26.
“The Death of my son is beyond tragic,” said Hight’s father, Frederick Hight Sr., in a statement released to media by his attorneys. “I asked for help and instead my son was killed. Emergency calls requesting mental health services far too often end in lethal force.”
According to the lawsuit, Hight’s father had called 911 at 6:47 p.m. that night to get mental health assistance for Hight, who he claimed was schizophrenic and was pacing back and forth as he was talking to himself. At 7 p.m., the lawsuit claimed Jackson arrived and told Hight Sr. and his daughter to get in the home with him.
“Jackson forcibly entered the home shared by Hight Jr. and Hight Sr. and attempted to seize Hight Jr. without waiting for backup of other deputies or assistance from personnel trained in dealing with persons with mental health issues,” the lawsuit stated.
Read the full lawsuit here
Hight’s attorneys argued that after entering the home and seeing Hight, Jackson drew his gun and ordered him to get on the ground. Jackson then tried to handcuff Hight, whose lawyers claimed was unarmed, did not pose any danger, and did not resist arrest.
Attorneys claimed that while he was on the ground, Hight asked Jackson why he was arresting him, but Jackson started yelling at him, eventually pointing the gun at him.
“With his right hand, Defendant Jackson pushed Hight Jr., who was kneeling, towards the ground, pressed his gun towards Hight Jr., and shot him in the chest when Hight Jr. posed no immediate threat of serious bodily injury or death to Jackson,” the lawsuit stated.
The Walker County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the shooting in Facebook message published that night, although it did not release Hight’s name.
In a since-deleted Facebook post published the day after the shooting, the WCSO released the following statement that was saved by CBS 42:
Hight’s attorneys argued that Jackson was not trained to deal with a mental health call and acted outside the law in using deadly force against him.
“Jackson’s use of deadly force by shooting Hight Jr. in the chest was objectively unreasonable and violated clearly established law,” the lawsuit stated. “No reasonably prudent law enforcement officer, faced with similar circumstances, would have acted as Jackson acted.
The lawsuit also alleged that Sheriff Smith also shared responsibility in Hight’s death due to his argument that Jackson acted within the department’s policies.
“Smith’s unconstitutional policies and customs were the driving force behind Jackson’s unconstitutional and excessive force,” the lawsuit stated. “As a direct and proximate result of the combining and concurring unconstitutional conduct of Jackson and Smith, Hight Jr. suffered a gunshot to the chest and died.”
The WCSO has not responded to the lawsuit.