Some four and a half years ago, Florida sheriff’s deputies showed up to the home of Gregory Vaughn Hill Jr.
The African-American father of three was a man with an imperfect past. He had several traffic violations on his record—serious violations, according to The New York Times—and had been drinking long before law enforcement arrived.
A neighbor, writes the Times, had heard loud music coming from Hill’s garage. Apparently disturbed, she dialed 911 to report a noise complaint.
Two St. Lucie County, Florida, sheriff’s deputies pulled into the drive and approached. The door to Hill’s garage was down—nobody else was around, nobody else was watching.
Deputy Christopher Newman says they knocked on the garage door. Hill, intoxicated, drew up the gate, gun in hand. When he saw uniforms on the pavement outside, he immediately closed the barrier back down.
Saying he feared for his life and that Hill posed an imminent threat to himself and a colleague, Newman opened fire. Three bullets tore through the door. One hit Hill in the head; the other two passed through his abdomen.
The two deputies didn’t enter the home—they called for backup. Within minutes, a SWAT team arrived on the scene, robot in tow. The machine, outfitted with a camera, pierced the garage door and took pictures of the scene within.
Only then, writes the Times, did deputies realize the 30-year old man was dead on the ground, an unloaded pistol in his back pocket.
The strange circumstances—a man shot dead through a garage door over a noise complaint—prompted an inquiry. Neither the St. Lucie County Sheriff, Ken Mascara, nor the local prosecutor found evidence of wrongdoing.
Newman and his colleague, Edward Lopez, say Hill opened the garage door, gun in hand. But Hill’s family points to crime scene photographs—the father of three dead on the ground, the butt of a 9mm pistol protruding from pocket.
Hill’s fiancée and mother sued, claiming that Newman likely didn’t notice the firearm. They say the deputy was spooked by the sound of the garage door closing—and that there’s no way Gregory Vaughn Hill could have slammed the gate and placed the pistol in his rear pocket before Deputy Newman started shooting.
Jurors deliberated for ten hours before determining that Hill was largely at fault for his own death.
Recognizing that perhaps the sheriff’s office and deputies played a role in the homicide, they offered Hill’s loved ones $4 in damages. The miserly sum was later reduced to four cents and then scratched entirely, after a judge considered Hill’s intoxication during the brief encounter.
“I think they were trying to insult the case,” said James M. Phillips, attorney for Hill’s mother, Viola Bryant. “Why go there with the $1? That was the hurtful part.”
Phillips said that eight hours into the ten-hour deliberation, the jury was unable to reach a verdict—some were visibly red in the face, appearing “incensed.”
Two hours later, they reached a decision.
“It seems like the jurors gave up,” said Phillips, who’s now drafting a motion for a new trial.
Hill’s fiancée, Monique Davis, said the $4 award was painful.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Davis, who’d planned to marry Hill less than two months before he died. “There are a lot of questions I want to ask.
“I’m going to keep fighting until I get some justice,” she said. “That’s the only way I’m going to get peace.”