Dothan commissioners this week voted to settle a 2016 lawsuit filed by the estate of a man shot and killed in a fracas at the Dothan Animal Shelter in 2014.
Robert Earl Lawrence had arrived at the shelter with his girlfriend and children to drop off a stray dog they found in the parking lot of Walmart. Lawrence refused to sign paperwork and said he would just dump the dog out elsewhere. A police officer at the scene asked Lawrence to produce his driver’s license, and he refused. When backup arrived, another officer attempted to arrest Lawrence, and a struggle ensued. Lawrence tried to take the officer’s Taser, and another officer shot him. He later died.
Despite the entire struggle being captured by one officer’s dash camera, the case has not been a simple matter. An internal police investigation cleared the officer who fired the fatal shot. A federal magistrate then ruled that litigation from the victim’s estate could go forward. A federal judge ruled the officer enjoyed qualified immunity; an appeals court overturned that ruling.
On Tuesday, the city agreed to pay the estate $250,000 to settle the case while continuing to deny liability.
That may well be the best action. Continued litigation would mean escalating legal costs and, given the mixed messages from the courts, the city cannot be confident it would prevail.