Amherst Virginia November 4 2020 Parts of a lawsuit filed over an Amherst County man who was shot and paralyzed after seeking treatment during a psychotic episode in 2016 have survived legal challenges, a judge determined Monday.
Ruth Ann Warner first filed suit against Centra Health on behalf of her son, Jonathan Warner, in August 2017. The matter bounced between different courtrooms, gaining and losing defendants before ending up in federal court last summer.
Warner also named Richmond-based firm Baskervil Architecture in the federal suit, claiming it was negligent in its design of Centra’s Psychiatric Emergency Center — where Warner was escorted to early on the morning of Jan. 11, 2016, and where the shooting occurred — with only one entrance and exit path, among other alleged design flaws.
Last week, a judge finalized a $150,000 settlement for the firm, which will be split in three equal portions among Warner, the lawyers representing her and her son, and medical liens from his treatment following the shooting. It releases Baskervil from any liability in the case.
Centra and the other individual defendants — security guards, physicians and behavioral health specialists who interacted with Jonathan Warner or handled his medical case — had filed motions to dismiss the lawsuit through their attorneys in November 2019. U.S. District Court Judge Norman Moon granted most of that request Monday, eliminating some of the defendants in the case, but the lawsuit endures through a couple of claims.
Moon dismissed Warner’s claims her son was unlawfully seized by force and deprived of due process of an emergency custody order. He also dismissed claims of negligence on Centra’s behalf, medical malpractice of a behavioral health worker who partially handled the case and a claim that Centra had an unconstitutional policy of seizing patients and using excessive force against them.
Warner will be allowed to amend her excessive use of force claim against Wesley Gillespie, the security guard who ended up shooting her son after tensions escalated to a physical scuffle between them.
Reports and court documents state Jonathan Warner reached for Gillespie’s gun after he “snapped” and managed to get Gillespie’s Taser, which Warner misfired at another security guard before chasing him into an adjacent room and then trying to flee.
Gillespie shot Warner three times before Warner fell to the ground, then a fourth time in the back as Warner “began to get back up,” according to a report compiled by Michael Doucette the Commonwealth’s Attorney in Lynchburg at the time. Doucette did not press charges against Gillespie, finding that he acted in reasonable self-defense.
Paul Valois, one of the lawyers representing the Warners, declined to comment for this article or say whether that claim would be amended.
Moon found that Warner has a legal basis for proceeding with a claim Gillespie battered her son, and that Centra would be implicated in that claim as his employer.
With the facts of the shooting presented, he found that “an objectively reasonable person would find it likely that Jonathan could have harmed someone,” but the fourth shot Gillespie fired at Warner’s back while he was on the ground was “objectively unreasonable” since any imminent threat was gone and Gillespie didn’t try to detain Warner or issue a verbal command.
Centra’s counsel did not return a request for comment.