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Judge dismisses civil suit in deadly 2012 Atlantic City police shooting

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Atlantic City and two officers in the 2012 fatal shooting of an 18-year-old man.
Derreck Mack’s mother claimed police failed to get her son proper medical attention after he was shot by an officer chasing him through Stanley Holmes Village on Dec. 17, 2012. She also claims he was not armed, although police have said he had a gun that was recovered at the scene.
U.S. District Judge Joseph Rodriguez found no evidence that officers showed indifference in rendering Mack aid at the scene, nor that a quicker response would have changed the outcome. The shooting was justified, he said, a decision bolstered by similar conclusions from an internal investigation, grand jury presentation and independent analysis.
Rodriguez granted a motion Tuesday for summary judgment, meaning he dismissed the case without it going before a jury.
In a 24-page document, the judge detailed his decision, and included a timeline of the events that day.
At 2:04 p.m., there was a call of “shots fired, one man down,” after Officer John Smith shot Mack, the judge wrote.
Seven minutes later, Mack was in an ambulance en route to the hospital.
Officer Mike Ruzzo called for the ambulance at 2:05 p.m., then took Smith from the scene, as is department policy that in the event of serious injury or death resulting from use of force, “the employee shall be removed from the scene as soon as practicable,” Rodriguez wrote.
Both Smith and Ruzzo were named in the lawsuit.
No medical testimony or other evidence was presented to show that Mack’s chance of survival would have improved if Ruzzo had taken him to the hospital or if any of the other officers had taken action, Rodriguez said.
The ambulance was dispatched at 2:06 p.m. and arrived on scene at 2:10 p.m.
Within that time, then-Lt. James Sarkos, now a captain, gave Mack CPR, the judge writes.
Someone claiming to be a nurse is denied access to the scene before the ambulance arrives, the judge said, but “to the extent that the person on video claiming to be a nurse was in fact medically trained, there is nothing in the record to suggest that the nurse could have performed any intervention to curtail Mack’s condition from worsening.
There were varying accounts of whether Mack had a gun that day, the judge wrote, but added that qualified immunity allows police officers to make split-second decisions under rapidly evolving circumstances.
“Therefore, as long as Smith’s belief that Mack was armed is reasonable, qualified immunity applies even if Smith was mistaken,” the judge wrote.
Even witnesses who claimed they didn’t see a gun didn’t offer testimony that would negate Smith’s claim that Mack was turning toward him with the gun.
“I would’ve shot him,” one civilian witness said, “because I don’t know if he is pulling something from his waistband or he was coming to give up.”
Police were called to the area, it was later learned, by investigators conducting surveillance in a federal drug-trafficking investigation. That resulted in the arrest and ultimate conviction of 33 people tied to the Dirty Blok gang out of Stanley Holmes Village.
Terry Davis, who also ran from police that day, was one of several convicted at trial. The federal jury in that case saw surveillance video that showed Mack appear to adjust a gun in his waistband.
But, the video is dated Nov. 30, 2012, the judge noted, although the assistant U.S. attorney in the case said the real date was Dec. 17, 2012.
Smith’s use of deadly force because he believed Mack was armed and posed a threat “was objectively reasonable under the circumstances,” the judge noted.
He noted that an internal review by the Atlantic City police department took no action against the officers and that a grand jury found the shooting “lawful and justified.”
An independent expert also reviewed the case, and found that shooting was justified and Smith “operated within the bounds of policy and protocol.”
Neither city solicitor Anthony Swan nor Conde’s attorney immediately returned calls seeking comment.

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