Two Davidson County sheriff’s deputies claim qualified immunity from a lawsuit alleging that they unlawfully killed a passenger in a stolen SUV.
Qualified immunity is a legal concept often used to shield law-enforcement officers from civil liability in wrongful-death lawsuits.
The lawsuit revolves around the May 26 death of 32-year-old John Mark Hendrick Jr. Hendrick’s mother, Donna Faye Kiger, filed the lawsuit Aug. 27 in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.
The deputies being sued are Barry Lee Bartrug III and Matthew Jacob Shelton. No criminal charges have been filed against the deputies, and they are back on active duty at the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office.
After reviewing a report by the State Bureau of Investigation, Davidson County District Attorney Garry Frank sought an indictment on a charge of first-degree murder against Charles Justin Boothe, who was driving the stolen SUV. Frank has said he doesn’t plan to file any more charges.
The lawsuit alleges that Bartrug and Shelton got out of their vehicle and started shooting, firing at least three to six shots into the passenger side of Boothe's vehicle. The lawsuit said Hendrick died of a gunshot wound to the head.
The deputies said they fired after they gave commands to people in the vehicle, according to court documents. Patrick Flanagan, attorney for the deputies, says Shelton and Bartrug unsuccessfully tried to block Boothe's car. Then Boothe struck Shelton’s patrol vehicle and then “made a movement toward the Defendants," Flanagan said in court papers.
Flanagan argued that the deputies were "acting without malice" and "in accordance with the laws," which means they are protected under immunity granted to public officials "as well as qualified immunity.”
Flanagan also argues that Hendrick’s death was the result of actions by “third persons over which Defendants had no control or responsibility,” referencing Boothe.
John Vermitsky, one of the plaintiff's attorneys, declined to comment Thursday.
According to the lawsuit, the chase started around 2 a.m. on March 26. Hendrick was in the front passenger seat. In the back seat was 18-year-old Deven McKay Mathis.
Boothe had just dropped off Mathis’ girlfriend and was driving on Lewisville-Clemmons Road toward Peace Haven Road in Clemmons. Boothe ran a yellow light, and a Forsyth County deputy turned on his blue lights in an attempt to stop Boothe. Boothe did not stop, and the sheriff’s deputy gave chase.
Hendrick and Mathis begged Boothe to pull over and let them out, but Boothe refused, saying he would not be going back to prison, according to the lawsuit. Hendrick and Mathis called 911. Boothe also called 911, telling a dispatcher that if the deputies backed off, he would let the passengers out.
The chase wound its way through Guilford and Davidson counties, going through Thomasville and ending in Lexington. Deputies did a pit maneuver, crashing into Boothe’s car and then blocking him in.
The lawsuit said Bartrug and Shelton did not give any warnings before shooting. They said all of the shots were fired at the vehicle side, with one striking Hendrick in the forehead.
“No warning was given before firing the deadly shots nor was any attempt taken to avoid targeting the passengers who were clearly kept in the vehicle against their will,” according to the lawsuit. “Instead the force was deliberately used against Hendrick, killing him and seizing the vehicle.”
The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages.
Get local news delivered to your inbox!
Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.