Friday, May 17, 2019 1:00 am
Officer loses appeal to have lawsuit dismissed
MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette
An excessive force lawsuit against a Fort Wayne police officer who shot an unarmed robber in 2015 will go forward after a federal appeals court declined to stop it.
Officer Daniel Hartman shot Anthony Gant in the abdomen as he exited a Dollar General store on East State Boulevard in August 2015. Hartman said he thought Gant, 47, who had just robbed the store with another man, was holding a gun.
Gant pleaded guilty and filed the lawsuit in 2016 seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
Hartman argued in court documents a review of video evidence “utterly discredits” claims by Gant that he was shot while trying to comply with officers' demands or he did not have time to comply with demands from police.
The appeals court disagreed and dismissed Hartman's appeal Tuesday.
In an 11-page unanimous decision, judges William J. Bauer, David F. Hamilton and Michael B. Brennan wrote that they agree with a lower court ruling finding “genuine issues of material fact” – such as whether it is reasonable for an officer in Hartman's position to believe Gant had a gun – that jurors should decide.
The court also chastised Hartman for a “back-door effort to contest the facts” and an attempt to “second-guess the district court's conclusion that material facts are disputed.”
“Officer Hartman has consistently relabeled certain facts as 'undisputed,' and he asks this court to challenge the district court's determination that material facts are genuinely disputed,” the decision states.
“(He) cannot pursue an interlocutory appeal by arguing that the evidence is insufficient to support the district court's conclusion or by relabeling the disputed facts as 'undisputed.' ”
It's at least the second time Hartman has tried to avoid the lawsuit.
He filed a motion for summary judgment – a decision in which a judge rules in favor of a party in a lawsuit without a trial – in 2017, and U.S. District Court Judge Theresa Springmann denied the request in part in February 2018, allowing the case to go forward.
The city of Fort Wayne and officers Bradley Griffin and Jason Palm had been named in the lawsuit but were removed, leaving only Hartman as a defendant.
The case will be heard in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne by Judge Holly Brady. No hearings are scheduled, court records show.
Gant and Christopher Johnson entered the store the evening of Aug. 23, 2015. Gant pointed a gun – a BB gun, police later determined – at a clerk and demanded money, according to court documents.
Police were called to the store, and Hartman crouched near the front entrance while officers who arrived later surrounded the business. Hartman moved toward the entrance as Johnson ran out, and Gant appeared in the doorway with his left arm extended, investigators said.
Hartman fired two shots, striking Gant once.
“Officer Hartman explained afterward that he feared for his life because he believed Gant was holding a handgun, and Hartman had no cover from a potential shot,” court documents state.
Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards said in December 2015 Hartman would not be charged in the shooting.
Gant and Johnson pleaded guilty to robbery. Gant is being held at the Westville Correctional Facility, and the earliest he could be released is August 2024.