by Mark Wilson
South Carolina police paid $2 million to settle wrongful death claims of the estate of a woman who was shot to death in her home by police while executing a misdemeanor arrest warrant.
A Kershaw County arrest warrant was issued against Lori Jean Ellis, for a misdemeanor check offense. Kershaw County Sheriff’s deputies Tyrell Coleman and William Sowell and South Carolina Department of Natural Resources agent Gregg Lowery intended to execute that warrant after dark on February 21, 2008.
The officers arrived at Ellis’s home in Cassatt, South Carolina in an unmarked truck. The home was surrounded by a four-foet-high, chain-link, “dog enclosure” fence.
When Ellis’s dog came to the fence, officers maced him with pepper spray. As Coleman and Sowell rode “cowboy style” in the truck bed, Lowery rammed the front gate with the truck and drove up to Ellis’s back door. Without knocking, officers attempted to “jimmy” the door open with lock picks. When that failed, they used a large, heavy, metal object and “batter-rammed” the door open.
Seeing Ellis in the hallway of her own home, officers opened fire, hitting her in the back of the head, near the base of her skull. One bullet lodged and partially exited her left eye. She was killed instantly.
Lowery falsely claimed in a written statement that Ellis approached officers with a raised gun, pointing in their direction. He said he “saw smoke” coming from the end of her gun.
Coleman also made a false written statement, claiming that he saw a “flash” coming from the gun Ellis was supposedly pointing at them. Sowell also lied in his written statement, claiming he heard a “shot” coming from Ellis’s supposed gun.
When the officers called the incident in to dispatch, they falsely claimed that shots had been fired from a “high powered rifle.” Investigators found only a non-working bb/pellet gun inside Ellis’s residence.
Ellis’s sister and personal representative of her estate, Deloris Blakely, brought suit against the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Stephen McCaskill, and the individuals involved in the shooting. She alleged that Ellis’s death was caused by defendants’ excessive force and gross negligence.
On March 22, 2013, a South Carolina federal judge approved a $2 million settlement of Blakely’s claims, finding that it was “in the best interest of the estate.”
See: Blakely v. Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office, USDC No. 3:10-cv-00707-JFA (D. S.C. Mar. 22, 2013).
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Related legal case
Blakely v. Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office
|Cite||USDC No. 3:10-cv-00707-JFA (D. S.C. Mar. 22, 2013)|