Mark Henderson was a hostage held at gunpoint in a room at the Woodbury Red Roof Inn on August 30, 2012. He fled the room and approached Woodbury police officers with his hands raised. He complied with their commands to get on the ground. As he lay unarmed in a prone position approximately 10-12 feet in front of them, the officers shouted conflicting and contradictory commands that even they couldn’t hear or understand. Within seconds, they opened fire and killed him.
Henderson’s family brought a lawsuit against the officers and Woodbury in August 2015. The officers argued that the doctrine of qualified immunity protected their actions. The doctrine of qualified immunity basically says that, in order to be liable for their actions, officers need to knowingly violate an established constitutional right – negligence is not enough. They argued that Henderson didn’t comply with their command to show his hands, and while on the ground, he made a “blading” movement toward them that justified his shooting.
In November 2016, Woodbury brought a motion for summary judgment, asking the district court to dismiss the Henderson family’s case because the officers were protected by qualified immunity. In February 2017, the district court granted Woodbury’s motion and dismissed the case.
We thought the district court erred by not considering crucial evidence, including the officers’ statements from the night of the shooting, where at least one officer admitted that Henderson complied with all officer commands. So we appealed the case to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In November 2018, the Eighth Circuit reversed the district court’s opinion and held that the case should go to a jury trial. The Eighth Circuit held that the district court erred by failing to consider the officers’ statements from the night of the shooting, and that a jury could rely on those statements to conclude that Mark complied with officer commands, but was shot and killed anyway.
In April 2019, just weeks before trial, Woodbury settled with Henderson’s family for almost $1.5 million – the full amount of insurance policy limits.
We were honored to represent the Henderson family.