A federal jury has awarded $500,000 in damages to a man who filed suit against the town of Clayton and three police officers after he suffered personal injuries when the officers shot him five years ago.
According to court documents, on February 2, 2004, Manuel Pena was inside his home when the officers fired 16 rounds of ammunition, striking him twice. At the time, the officers were searching for another man and believed him to be inside Pena’s home.
The jury found no wrongdoing on the officers’ part in relation to Pena’s excessive force claim. However, they awarded him $300,000 in compensatory damages for his claim of illegal search. The jury also ordered two of the officers to pay a combined total of $200,000 in punitive damages.
The officers were cleared four months after the shooting by an investigation conducted by the State Bureau of Investigation and the Johnston County district attorney’s office. They determined the use of deadly force to be warranted and the amount of gunfire not to have been excessive.
The district attorney’s report said that Pena came to the door of his home with a rifle after officers knocked on the door and announced themselves.
The report said Pena didn’t respond to commands to drop the gun officers fired when he moved the weapon “as if to shoulder it.” The report says after he went back into his home, Pena returned to the porch still holding the rifle and appeared to point it in the officers’ direction.
According to Pena’s complaint, he had been sleeping when the officers knocked on his door. By the time he had awaken and reached the door, no one was there.
Pena claims he retrieved the rifle because he believed a predator had frightened his chickens and dogs. When he got to the porch, he heard an officer shout that he had a gun and shots began to be fired.
Pena says the officers never identified themselves.