ST. LOUIS, Mo. (CN) - Citing inconsistencies in an Arkansas police officer's explanation of his deadly scuffle with a suspect, the 8th Circuit declined to grant him immunity.
The confrontation occurred Halloween 2011 when Officer Nicholas Holley killed Cletis Williams while trying to apprehend the man at Williams' home for 23 arrest warrants.
Williams' daughter is suing Holley and the city of Jonesboro for excessive force, and the 8th Circuit affirmed Monday that Holley is not eligible for summary judgment in the face of evidence from an internal investigation together with the coroner's report.
Holley claims that Williams initially refused to let him into his trailer that night but that the officer saw a chance to grab Williams' arm and get pulled into the house.
After failing to restrain Williams, Holley allegedly drew his Taser and ordered Williams to the ground.
Unable to request backup because the radio channel was in use, Holley said he then discharged his Taser but that Williams removed the darts, took the Taser away from Holley and pressed the prongs against Holley's left shoulder.
Holley allegedly then tripped and fell onto Williams' couch, at which point he said Williams sat on him as he pressed the prongs of the Taser against the officer's left shoulder.
"Holley claims the Taser disabled his left shoulder but maintains he was able to use his left arm to attempt to shift Cletis off of him," Judge Kermit Bye wrote for a three-judge panel. "As the two struggled, Holley used his right hand to draw his pistol and point it at Cletis's stomach. Holley ordered Cletis off of him. Cletis continued pressing the taser into Holley's shoulder, but used one hand to grab the barrel of the pistol."
That's when Holley says he jerked the gun back and fired the first of six rounds at Williams. Although shot twice at close range, Williams allegedly remained aggressive, "leaning forward with his arms raised toward Holley and continuing to come at Holley," Bye summarized.
"Holley fired four more shots into Cletis's chest, all at a distance of less than three feet," the decision states. "Cletis then stood up and stumbled out of the trailer, where he collapsed on the ground outside."
Cletis died at a hospital after paramedics and other officers arrived.
In affirming that immunity is not available to Holley, the court cited findings from an internal investigation that Holley's uniform bore no Taser marks where Williams allegedly pressed the prongs against him.
It is also inconsistent that Holley allegedly used his left arm in the continued struggle after it his left shoulder had supposed been disabled by the Taser, the panel found.
The coroner's description of the paths of the gunshot wounds in Williams' forearms, and the distance of the shots raised more doubt in the officer's story, according to the ruling.
"These inferences taken together would support a reasonable conclusion Cletis was not the threat Holley described and Holley's use of lethal force against Cletis was unreasonable," Bye wrote.
The ruling notes that Williams' arrest warrants were for nonviolent misdemeanors including possession of marijuana, different traffic violations and subsequent contempt of court warrants.