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Monroe County sheriff removed from fatal shooting lawsuit

Sheriff has qualified immunity

By: Bennett Loudon//July 12, 2023

Monroe County sheriff removed from fatal shooting lawsuit

Sheriff has qualified immunity

By: Bennett Loudon//July 12, 2023//

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A federal judge has dismissed Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter from a lawsuit related to a fatal shooting, but the lawsuit will proceed against other defendants.

Shenea James, administrator of the estate of Dedrick James, originally filed the lawsuit in December in state Supreme Court against the city of Rochester and several individuals, including Baxter.

Baxter was accused of failing to properly train and supervise his employees.

James died during the execution of a search warrant at a home where his grandmother answered the door. James saw the officers and ran farther into the house. Officers caught up with him and a struggle ensued, during which James was shot.

“I see no basis to contend that the unfortunate outcome of these events could fairly be attributed to Baxter’s inadequate training of his deputies,” Larimer wrote.

A report issued in August 2022 by the Office of Special Investigation of the New York State Attorney General’s office concluded that James was shot by a single bullet from his own handgun, fired by James himself.

The original complaint made seven claims related to the death of James on Sept. 15, 2021. The lawsuit originally named six defendants: the city of Rochester; the Rochester Police Department; Officer William Baker; Investigator Richard Arrowood; Baxter; Sheriff’s Sgt. Christian DeVinney; and New York State Police Investigator Jeffrey Ulatowski.

James is represented by attorney Elliot Dolby Shields.

The action was moved to U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, in Rochester, in January. Before the case was moved, Baxter moved to dismiss the complaint.

In May, U.S. District Court Judge David G. Larimer substituted the United States of America as defendant in place of some of the defendants (not including Baxter) and dismissed some of the claims in the suit.

Larimer also previously dismissed claims under New York state law against Baxter. Baxter subsequently moved to dismiss the remaining complaint, a claim filed under 42 U.S. Code Section 1983 that Baxter violated James’ civil rights by failing to properly train, supervise and discipline his employees.

“It has long been established that there is no respondeat superior or vicarious liability in suits under (Section) 1983,” Larimer wrote.

“The personal involvement of defendants in alleged constitutional deprivations is a prerequisite to an award of damages under (Section) 1983,” Larimer wrote.

“The plaintiff must directly plead and prove that each government-official defendant, through the official’s own individual actions, has violated the Constitution,” Larimer wrote.

Larimer ruled that the allegations “concerning Baxter are insufficient to make out a claim against him under (Section) 1983. Plaintiff has simply alleged in conclusory fashion that Baxter provided training to MCSO deputies and that the training was inadequate,” he wrote.

“Plaintiff’s allegations fail to show Baxter’s personal involvement in the alleged constitutional violation,” Larimer wrote.

Because he ruled that the lawsuit did not state a Section 1983 claim against Baxter, Larimer did not formally address the question of qualified immunity for Baxter.

“It is patently clear, however, that Baxter is entitled to such immunity. Beyond failing to show that Baxter was directly involved in the alleged constitutional violation, plaintiff has alleged no facts showing that any of Baxter’s acts or omissions implicated any clearly established constitutional right,” Larimer wrote.

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