FAIRMONT — A federal lawsuit claims two employees of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office used excessive force during a 2017 shooting that left the plaintiff partially paralyzed.

Court records show jury selection and a trial are scheduled to take place at 9:30 a.m. Dec. 8, 2020 before U.S. District Court Judge Thomas S. Kleeh in Clarksburg.

The lawsuit filed by Randall Clay Ford of Harrison County, also includes the Marion County Commission as a defendant in the case. The suit states that “as a result of being shot by the Marion County Sheriff’s Department, Mr. Ford is now permanently and totally disabled for the remainder of his life.”

In addition to the Marion County Commission, defendants in the lawsuit are Deputy John Billie, an employee of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, and a person only identified as “John Doe.” The lawsuit states that Doe was “an employee, agent, and or other representative of the Marion County Sheriff’s Department who acted in concert with the Defendant(s) to unlawfully and unreasonably use excessive force against Mr. Ford.”

The lawsuit claims, that on Oct. 17, 2017, Ford was driving in Mannington in a vehicle that had improper registration. Mannington Police Officer Wesley Wheeler saw the vehicle, tried to pull over Ford in the McDonald’s parking lot in Mannington, but he fled.

The lawsuit states that Wheeler is also a deputy with the Marion County Sheriff’s Department, also serving as training officer there.

Officer Wheeler followed Ford on U.S. Route 250 until he turned on Route 218 where he drove through Idamay, the court papers claim. The lawsuit claims that Wheeler, believing that Ford was driving to his mother’s home in Shinnston, “coordinated with the Marion County Sheriff’s Department.”

Billie and Deputy Lawson of the Marion County Sheriff’s Department were advised to set up a

staggered roadblock “to attempt to get the fleeing driver to stop or slow down enough to get a visual identification,” the court papers claim.

According to the claims in the lawsuit, staggered roadblocks “are intentionally designed to have paths of egress,” and Billie and Lawson “were allegedly advised by the Marion County Sheriff’s Department to leave a point of egress for the fleeing vehicle if the driver refused to stop.” The roadblock was put in place on Route 218, near Carolina, by Bille and Lawson, the court papers claim.

“The roadblock was staged in an area on Route 218 in which Mr. Ford had limited time to observe and react to the roadblock due to turns in the road approaching it,” the lawsuit states. “Mr. Ford also had limited visibility when approaching the roadblock due to the flashing lights of the cruisers in the middle of the road. When Mr. Ford saw the roadblock, he slammed on his breaks (sic) in an attempt to slow the vehicle and pulled the emergency break (sic); however, the breaks (sic) on his vehicle were in a poor condition.”

According to the claims in the lawsuit, Ford “maneuvered the vehicle while breaking (sic) towards a path of egress on the left side of the staggered roadblock while trying to avoid hitting one of the cruisers. At no time while approaching the roadblock or when attempting to stop his vehicle, did the Plaintiff Randall Ford see Deputy John Billie — as he was focused on attempting to stop his vehicle while avoiding the police cruisers.”

The court papers claim that for unknown reasons, Deputy Billie had positioned himself in a path of egress on the left side of the staggered roadblock, and as Ford approached the roadblock, Deputy Lawson radioed to Billie to “move, move, move.” The lawsuit states that Billie then moved out of the path of the vehicle, and Ford’s vehicle then came to “a near or complete stop in the path of egress on the left side of the cruisers.”

According to the claims in the lawsuit, Billie discharged his firearm multiple times as he shot through Ford’s driver’s side window and struck him in the back twice. It states this took place after Billie successfully moved out of the path of egress.

The suit claims that medical records “show that two bullets entered Mr. Ford’s body in the same exact hole, meaning, both of Defendant’s Billie’s shots that struck Mr. Ford hit precisely the same point on his body.” The lawsuit states that “as a result of being shot by Defendant Billie, Mr. Ford immediately became paralyzed from the waist down and was unable to operate his vehicle.”

The lawsuit also claims that shortly after Ford was shot, a member of the Marion County Sheriff’s Department “falsely claimed over the radio that Mr. Ford possessed a gun.”

It claims that the “Marion County Sheriff’s Department has a custom, pattern, practice, and procedure of using unjustified and unreasonable excessive deadly force against individuals who are allegedly fleeing without anyone being in Imminent Danger, as defined by the MCSD Use of Force Policy.”

The lawsuit claims that “when Defendant Billie used deadly force and discharged his weapon at Mr. Ford, through his driver’s side window, without anyone being located in front of the vehicle or on the other side of the roadblock, no Imminent Threat or exigent circumstances existed.”

“Consistent with the Marion County Sheriff’s Department’s custom, pattern, practice, and procedure, when Defendant Billie shot Mr. Ford, he violated the MSCD Use of Force Policy in multiple ways, including, but not limited to: (a) using force as summary punishment or for vengeance; (b) discharging a firearm solely (to) protect property interests; ( c ) discharging a firearm to stop an individual on mere suspicion of a crime simply because the individual runs away; and (d) discharging a firearm at a moving vehicle, absent exigent circumstances,” the lawsuit claims. “Consistent with its custom, pattern, practice, and procedure, the Marion County Sheriff’s Department and Deputy Billie falsely accused Mr. Ford of attempting to use his vehicle in an aggressive manner to justify using deadly force when deputies shot at and hit Mr. Ford.”

There are three counts in the lawsuit. One concerns Excessive Use of Force, another has to do with liability and another is for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress.

The suit seeks compensatory damages for all past and future economic losses and expenses; general damages for past and future physical pain, mental suffering, and emotional distress; punitive damages to the fullest extent permitted by law; pre-judgment and post-judgment interest; costs incurred in the action and reasonable attorney fees; and “such other further specific and general relief as may become apparent from discovery as this matter matures for trial.”

In December, the Marion County Commission and Billie, through counsel Tiffany R. Durst, Nathan A. Carroll and the Morgantown-based law firm of Pullin, Fowler, Flanagan Brown & Poe, answered the lawsuit.

They asked that the complaint be dismissed and “held for naught” and that the county commission and Billie recover their costs, expenses of the suit and a reasonable attorney’s fee made necessary in defending the complaint.

They denied the allegations in the lawsuit.

When asked for comment, Marion County Administrator Kris Cinalli declined comment.

“I’m not aware of anyone having any comment on that,” he said in an email.

Marion County Sheriff Jimmy Riffle could not be reached for comment.

Eric Hrin can be reached at 304-367-2549, or ehrin@timeswv.com.

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