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City of Dothan’s insurance to pay $1 million in civil suit settlement
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City of Dothan’s insurance to pay $1 million in civil suit settlement

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Robert Earl Lawrence shooting

Dothan Police Sgt. Maurice Eggleston addresses the media about a shooting involving a Dothan Police officer outside the Dothan Animal Shelter in December of 2014.

The City of Dothan’s insurance company is paying $1 million to settle a 2016 police shooting lawsuit in addition to $250,000 being paid by the city that was reported last week.

The federal lawsuit stems from a police shooting at the Dothan Animal Shelter in 2014 that killed Robert Earl Lawrence. The administrator of his estate, Christopher Cantu, filed the civil suit alleging Lawrence’s Fourth Amendment civil rights were violated when Dothan officer Adrianne Woodruff fired a lethal shot into his abdomen.

The confrontation began after Lawrence refused to produce a driver’s license as he attempted to leave a stray dog at the animal shelter. Providing identification is a part of the shelter’s operating procedure.

Federal District Judge Emily Marks ruled in November 2018 that Woodruff had acted within the scope of her duties during the confrontation, giving her qualified immunity from the lawsuit. During the scuffle, two attempts at using a Taser from Woodruff and fellow officer Alan Rhodes failed to subdue Lawrence, and Lawrence grabbed a Taser from Woodruff.

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“Brute force and a nonlethal Taser showed no signs of subduing Lawrence or dissuading him from continuing his struggle inches from his small children,” Marks wrote in her decision. “Woodruff and Rhodes could not wait indefinitely for Lawrence to stop resisting arrest or merely hope that Lawrence would tire before they did.”

Cantu appealed the decision and the suit continued. Dothan City Attorney Len White said he’s spent hundreds of hours fighting the suit over the last several years, and the city ultimately decided it was better to settle the suit than to continue fighting it.

“It’s a very tragic and unfortunate incident involving a person who officers attempted to arrest, but rather than cooperate, resisted arrest… this person was impervious to repeated Tasings, and continued resisting arrest to the point where he took one of the officer’s Taser,” White said. “The officer whose Taser he took used deadly force to eliminate that threat to her and her partners.”

Part of the city’s agreement states that the city denies any liability in the lawsuit, but is settling to avoid the uncertainties of litigation and its associated expenses.

Alabama Municipal Insurance Corporation is paying 75% of the $1.25 million settlement, while the city of Dothan pays a 25% deductible.

According to court records, Cantu’s legal representation will receive half of the amount collected after expenses are deducted. The remainder of the money will benefit Lawrence’s surviving heirs, including his wife and three minor children.

Sable Riley is a Dothan Eagle staff writer and can be reached at sriley@dothaneagle.com or 334.712.7915. Support her work and that of other Eagle journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at dothaneagle.com.

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