Norma Jean Baer, through her attorney, Charles T. Frahm of Parkville, Mo., filed the wrongful death lawsuit in Cape Girardeau County naming Jackson Sgt. James Barker, officer Larry Miller and Capt. Robert Hull as defendants.
In the 15-page lawsuit, Baer says the officers used "unnecessary and excessive deadly force" and directly caused the death of her son, Aaron Hemingway, on Feb. 27, 2009. On that day, Hemingway drove from Perryville to Jackson, where at Center Junction, police and witnesses said, he shot at and injured two Ameren linemen making repairs to a substation. Police say that shortly after the shooting, Hemingway shot himself in the head with a 12-gauge shotgun.
Jackson police chief James Humphreys said Wednesday his officers handled the incident professionally and called the lawsuit ridiculous.
As described in the lawsuit, Baer says evidence suggests something different happened that day. Baer refers to crime scene photographs, which she says show the shotgun lying across Hemingway's lap with the action open.
"A task impossible for Aaron Hemingway to perform subsequent to receiving the mortal gunshot wound to his right temple region," Baer wrote in the suit.
According to incident reports from the Jackson Police Department, officers tracked Hemingway through witnesses' descriptions of the shooter's vehicle, a maroon pickup. Witnesses also provided police a license plate number that checked back as belonging to Hemingway.
Miller spotted Hemingway first following radio traffic describing the incident and the suspect's vehicle. Miller had to turn around his squad car to get behind Hemingway, who was farther down Ridge Road and stopped his truck in the middle of the road, according to reports made by all three officers.
Barker and Hull were in a squad car about 100 feet in front of Hemingway's truck.
In his report, Miller wrote that from his own vehicle he could see the driver of the truck leaned over in his seat. He said he pulled out his department-issued pistol and pointed it at the driver as he approached the passenger side of the truck. Miller said he saw Hemingway with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his right temple, put his pistol back and called for medical personnel.
Officers Hull and Barker also wrote that they saw the driver slumped in his seat as they approached the stopped vehicle and saw a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Another investigator that came to the scene, Sgt. Scott Eakers, wrote in his report that while taking inventory of the vehicle he saw a shotgun pointed at Hemingway's head with the stock of the gun lying in the passenger seat.
In the report, none of the officers mentioned hearing the fatal shot.
In an autopsy report provided by Cape Girardeau County Coroner John Clifton, pathologist Russell Deidiker concluded Hemingway died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Noting the range of fire, Deidiker concluded that the gun was fired when directly against Hemingway's right temple.
Lead pellets were recovered from Hemingway's left temporal lobe.
Baer said in the lawsuit there was no justification for officers to use deadly force during the incident, claiming her son didn't pose a threat at the time.
In 23 pages of incident reports from the police department, there is no mention of officers using "deadly force." Officers reported they never fired a shot or even touched Hemingway before finding him dead.
Citing additional crime scene photographs, Baer says the pictures don't show any burn wounds or powder residue near Hemingway's right temple. However, Hemingway's autopsy notes a thin rim of soot near the entrance wound.
Information and forensic evidence, Baer alleges, reveal it was impossible for the gunshot wound to have been self-inflicted as reported by Miller, Hull and Barker.
In other allegations, Baer suggests police attempted to stop her son without having done a thorough investigation on whether Hemingway had been involved in a crime. She also says that to date, police haven't investigated to determine whether Hemingway was involved in the shooting of Ameren workers before his death.
Follow-up reports filed by Lt. Rodney Barnes and Eakers indicate the victims and several witnesses, other Ameren workers, were interviewed about the incident. They all shared the same story -- that a maroon S-10 pickup pulled up, a white male got out and began shooting.
"The pleadings are pretty well self-explanatory. I'm not going to comment other than what the pleadings say," Frahm said Wednesday.
Frahm said he's been licensed to practice law in Missouri for 25 years and his firm's specialty is handling wrongful death cases. The Missouri Bar, though, placed Frahm on probation for six months in March 2009 after charges of reckless aggravated battery and driving under the influence were filed against him in Kansas.
In addition to requesting a jury trial in the case, Baer is seeking a monetary judgment from the defendants in excess of $25,000. Frahm said the exact amount would be determined by a jury.
"She suffered a tremendous loss," he said. "This suit is a natural progression, and we hope to have some closure for her."
Humphreys said the facts of the 2009 incident, as outlined in department incident reports, are "pretty cut and dry." Additionally, he said he wouldn't elaborate on what Baer is alleging in her lawsuit, but they'd be able to present the facts at trial.
"The facts are pretty clear in my eyes ... the end result, with what happened," Humphreys said. "I believe that wholeheartedly. This is a shame. [Officers] did their jobs, and they were professionals about it."
A case management conference has been set for June 27 in Cape Girardeau.
Ridge Road, Jackson, MO
525 S. Hope St., Jackson, MO
44 N. Lorimier St., Cape Girardeau, MO