State Police Back On Hook In Fatal Shooting Lawsuit
June 6, 2008
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ West Virginia's highest court has restored the
State Police as a defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit, saying a jury
should decide if a trooper who killed a man in 2001 was trained on when to
Trooper C.F. Kane shot and killed 47-year-old Charles Pruitt at his McDowell
County residence after responding to a December 2001 domestic disturbance
call that turned out to be false.
Kane fired 16 shots at Pruitt, reloading his pistol in the process. The
State Police believe Pruitt pointed a gun at the trooper and refused orders
to drop it. Pruitt's family said he was not armed, though he was cleaning
several weapons at the time, and had his hands raised when Kane entered the
The State Police concluded Kane followed proper procedure, and no criminal
charges or disciplinary actions were filed. While a gun was found near
Pruitt, the family alleges it was planted.
A unanimous Supreme Court has reinstated the State Police as a defendant in
the resulting wrongful death lawsuit. Wednesday's ruling cites conflicting
testimony over whether Kane had been trained on when to stop firing.
"We believe that the safer course is to reverse the circuit court's
dismissal of the (Pruitts') failure to train and/or supervise claim and let
it proceed to trial," Chief Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard wrote.
Maynard cited pretrial testimony from Kane, who is also a defendant. Kane
testified that "he had not received any kind of training as to when a state
trooper is supposed to quit firing his gun," the ruling said, but also
"indicated that he was taught to stop firing when the immediate threat is
The State Police did not respond to requests by the Associated Press for
However, a veteran officer who trains fellow law enforcement nationwide on
firearms use said Kane's latter statement reflects a widely recognized
"It's called 'fire until your foe falls,'" said Thomas Aveni, co-founder
of the Police Policy Studies Council. "Once an officer sees justification to
use deadly force, that's been the accepted protocol for at least the last 20
But Aveni, a New Hampshire police officer who has trained police for 25
years, also said that an array of factors complicates the question of how
much deadly force to apply in any given situation.
"The only way to address it is in theory," Aveni said. "Threat
identification is a very dynamic concern. It's not something that's static
in many of these scenarios."
While not commenting on West Virginia State Police training, Aveni said the
common practice of qualifying with paper targets on a pistol range once a
year doesn't address the issue. That's one reason why his and other groups
are co-sponsoring a "National Summit on Use of Force in Law Enforcement" in
Washington, D.C. in mid-August.
"Police training is part of the problem, because it's deficient," Aveni
said. "There's not much done to enhance their judgment abilities."
The state Supreme Court also ruled that a jury should decide whether the
State Police should share liability if it finds that "Kane's conduct
violated clearly established laws." But it upheld the department's dismissal
from a part of the lawsuit alleging a civil rights violation.