In an order issued Thursday in the civil lawsuit stemming from the 2003 fatal shooting of Kenneth Walker, U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land said he would grant immunity to two officers involved in the drug investigation that led to Walker's death.
Land's order comes after a Dec. 21 hearing in which the confidential informant who was working with Columbus' Metro Narcotics Task Force the night Walker was shot recanted a statement he gave attorneys representing the Walker family in a federal civil suit. That statement conflicted with what the informant earlier had told police, and raised questions of fact about what really happened the night Walker was shot. Land in 2006 ruled that police Sgt. Rick Stinson and Jim Price could not be granted immunity in the Walker suit unless those questions were resolved.
Referring to the unnamed confidential informant as the "CI," Land wrote Thursday of the informant's Dec. 21 testimony:
"Based upon that examination, the Court finds that the CI's testimony upon which the Court partially relied in denying Stinson's and Price's Motions for Summary Judgment was either recanted or no longer worthy of belief. In the absence of that previous testimony and given the other information available to Stinson and Price at the time they ordered the stop of the Walker vehicle, the Court now finds that, as a matter of law, arguable reasonable suspicion existed to stop the Walker vehicle. Accordingly, Stinson and Price are entitled to qualified immunity, and their Motions for Summary Judgment should be granted."
Attorneys representing Price and Stinson have sought a summary judgment granting the officers immunity on the argument that they were acting within their authority and with adequate probable cause to order a special sheriff's squad to stop the vehicle in which Walker and three friends were riding the night of Dec. 10, 2003. The vehicle had just left an Armour Road apartment complex police had staked out, acting on the informant's tip that a resident there was selling cocaine. Another motorist who earlier left those apartments was stopped and arrested for possessing the drug.
Sheriff's deputies stopped the sport-utility vehicle in which Walker was riding on Interstate 185, and while detaining Walker, then-Deputy David Glisson shot Walker twice in the head. Though an autopsy later found evidence of cocaine in Walker's system, no drugs were found in the vehicle.
That night the three men accompanying Walker were freed after questioning. They also sued, and the city settled that lawsuit for $125,000 on Jan. 16. Glisson was fired from the sheriff's office for violating procedures. The Walkers sued the city, but it was granted immunity. Glisson, Stinson and Price are the only defendants remaining in the case.
Land's order Thursday does not grant Stinson and Price immunity because the civil case now is on appeal to the 11th Circuit in Atlanta. That court would have to send the case back to Land for a formal ruling, which could again be appealed to the circuit court.