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Excessive force lawsuit advances in wake of court decision

RIPLEY — A question of whether or not the alleged victim of an excessive force lawsuit is eligible for monetary damages under a specific section of the West Virginia State Constitution was answered by the West Virginia Supreme Court last month.

In July 2019, alleged victim Corey Fields filed a lawsuit against Deputy Ross Mellinger of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department claiming Mellinger used “excessive and deadly force” during an arrest, according to the complaint.

Mellinger was carrying out a search warrant in September 2018 when he came into contact with Fields in a detached garage, the complaint said. Mellinger ordered Fields to get on the ground and allegedly struck Fields in the face with the butt of a shotgun, according to the complaint.

A claim brought up by Fields questioned whether his West Virginia Constitutional rights made him eligible for monetary compensation. The case was brought to the federal court but after this question arose, it was brought to the state level to review that particular part of the state’s constitution.

One of the claims Fields brought up would have included his right to receive monetary compensation because of the damages caused by the incident per the state Constitution.

The state Supreme Court said the constitution did not support Fields’ right to receive money. However, the court did not decide whether or not Fields’ rights were violated; they only came to the conclusion that he would not be eligible for the monetary damages under that section of the constitution.

Because the question has been answered, the case, which was on hold for a while, can continue to move forward on the federal level.

Justice Evan H. Jenkins delivered the opinion to the court. In the opinion, Jenkins said there are “alternate remedies” available.

Justice John Hutchison agreed. Justice Margaret Workman did not agree with the opinion.

“This type of action is necessary to enforce West Virginia’s citizens’ constitutional rights and to ensure the government’s responsibility to provide and to protect those rights from governmental wrongdoing or deprivation,” Workman said in her dissent.

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