Cleveland Attorneys Successfully Pursued the Truth in a Police Misconduct Case

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Spangenberg Shibley & Liber LLP civil rights attorney Nicholas DiCello, and attorney Terry Gilbert of the firm Friedman and Gilbert, are pleased to announce a $2.65 million wrongful shooting settlement recently obtained on behalf of Charles Penson. Mr. Penson is permanently paralyzed from the neck down after being shot three times by a Hancock County, West Virginia Sheriff’s Deputy during the attempted service of a federal arrest warrant in April of 2007.

Spangenberg Shibley & Liber LLP

These cases are generally very difficult, and this is a tremendous result for Charles. He will never get back what he has lost, but this settlement will ensure he gets the care he needs and will go a long way to afford him a meaningful life.

Charles Penson was lured by law enforcement across state lines from Ohio to his friend’s residence in West Virginia where the Hancock County Special Response Team (“SRT”) intended to apprehend him. One of the Deputies, however, deviated from the SRT plan and ultimately Charles attempted to flee. As he was running away, he was shot three times. One bullet struck Charles in his back and lodged in his cervical spine. Charles was unarmed at the time.

After the shooting, the SRT members gave statements claiming Charles was reaching for his waistband or for the small of his back as he fled, presumably for a weapon, and turning toward the Deputy who shot him. The SRT members’ statements, however, were inconsistent with one another, as well as with the physical evidence. Local investigators performed no forensic analysis of the evidence or of Charles’s wounds, and never interviewed Mr. Penson to ask him what transpired. Sheriff’s officials concluded that Charles was shot in the side of his neck while turning toward the Deputy and reaching for his waistband area. In what appeared to be a cover-up, or at least a slipshod investigation, the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department cleared the shooter of any wrongdoing.

Civil Rights Attorneys DiCello and Gilbert relentlessly pursued the truth in this case. They obtained expert forensic analyses of the physical evidence and exposed inconsistencies between the SRT members’ accounts. Attorneys DiCello and Gilbert established that Mr. Penson was shot in his back as he ran away, not in the side of the neck while turning toward the Deputy. Contrary to the investigators’ conclusion, attorneys DiCello and Gilbert convincingly established and argued that the wound in the side of Charles’s neck was caused by a bullet fragment exiting his body after entering into the middle of his back and ricocheting off of his vertebrae.

Faced with the powerful evidence and expert witness testimony developed by Mr. DiCello and Mr. Gilbert, and having had the SRT members’ statements and accounts discredited, the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department agreed to settle this case for $2.65 million. The case was filed in the United States District Court, Northern District of West Virginia, Wheeling (case number 5:08-CV-183).

"The key to our success was to challenge and expose a typical and routine cover-up of police misconduct by a law enforcement agency, an all too frequent and disturbing practice in these cases. Most people assume the police are telling the truth when they use deadly force. But it takes relentless probing by aggressive attorneys to unravel the distortions and contradictions," said attorney Gilbert of Friedman and Gilbert.

“This shooting was unjustified. Equally disturbing, however, was the lack of any legitimate post-shooting investigation by the County Sheriff, other than to quickly exonerate the Deputy involved,” said DiCello. “These cases are generally very difficult, and this is a tremendous result for Charles. He will never get back what he has lost, but this settlement will ensure he gets the care he needs and will go a long way to afford him a meaningful life,” says Spangenberg Shibley & Liber LLP civil rights attorney, Nicholas DiCello.

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Renee Latkovic
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