Parents sue southern Illinois law enforcement officials over son's death

By Steve Gonzalez | Sep 5, 2007

Robert and Kay Jones of Union County filed suit in U.S. District Court against various law enforcement officials alleging they deprived them of their civil rights which resulted in the wrongful death of their son, Melvin Jones, a Navy veteran and member of the Illinois National Guard.

According to the complaint, Melvin came to visit his parents who live in a secluded portion of Union County on Oct. 20, 2006.

Melvin told his father that he was going outside to engage in target practice behind the garage, an area that had historically been used for that activity.

The complaint states Robert Jones walked outside a few minutes later to watch Melvin shoot targets when Melvin informed him he just called 911 to ask the operator to send an ambulance because he planned to commit suicide.

Melvin allegedly told the 911 operator that Robert Jones had heart trouble and he did not want anything to happen to his father because of his actions.

"Robert had never known Melvin to have made any suicidal type statements or taken any suicidal type actions prior to this incident," the complaint states.

According to the complaint, Robert began talking to Melvin and tried to convince him he should not shoot himself and that he should sit down and talk about it. Robert also called Melvin's mother Kay Jones to inform her of the situation.

Next, according to the complaint, Robert's phone rang and defendants Bart Hileman and Ron Stamp, deputies with the Union County Sheriff's Department, were asking Robert if he had been shot.

According to Robert, he informed the deputies who were parked in the driveway that he had not been shot and they then ordered him to move away from Melvin.

"Both deputies jumped out of the car," the complaint states. One pulled out his shotgun and appeared ready to shoot. The others started to pull their pistols."

Robert claims at no time did Melvin say or do anything to indicate he was a threat to any other person and he informed Hileman and Stamp of his conversation with Melvin and the things Melvin said that were bothering him.

According to the complaint, at that point, law enforcement vehicles from the Illinois State Police, Anna Police Department and Union County started to pull in the driveway and yard.

"The noticeable arrival of all these vehicles raised the tension tremendously," the complaint states.

Robert claims a police negotiator, co-defendant John Barr, also arrived at his house.

"He did not appear in professional dress, especially to handle a situation involving a military reservist in uniform," the complaint states.

According to Robert, Barr was dressed in blue jeans, an old t-shirt, and worse, his hair was in a pony tail.

Robert claims he was talking to Barr and also informed him of the conversation he had with Melvin. He then called Melvin's girlfriend and started to approach Melvin to give him the telephone when Barr allegedly yelled "not to take another step."

"Melvin did not resist the approach at all and appeared eager to get the telephone," the complaint states.

Robert claims Barr asked him if there was anybody that could actually get through to Melvin and was told that his mother was informed and was on her way to talk to Melvin.

According to Robert, at this time co-defendant Illinois State Police Trooper Steve Lawrence set up in a sniper position in front of Melvin's car and began pointing his gun towards Melvin and himself.

"Melvin could see the sniper and other armed officers," the complaint states. "This officer was trying to get a clear shot at Melvin."

Robert claims Lawrence failed to communicate and coordinate his involvement in the situation with the other officers.

He also claims Melvin's mother was now present at the scene but was detained by three uniformed officers from the Anna Police Department. She told the officers that she was his mother and began to walk toward Melvin and was then placed into custody for interfering in a police investigation.

Robert claims he told Barr that they needed to get Melvin's mother to come to talk to him, but claims Barr told him "we are in charge."

He claims two other officers asked him to come over and talk to them and at that point he was placed in handcuffs and taken away.

Robert claims he was told he was being arrested for obstruction of justice.

"After his parents were placed into custody, no one close to Melvin was permitted to talk to him," the complaint states.

"A few minutes later, Melvin shot himself."

Robert claims the officer transporting him to the jail would not tell him if Melvin shot himself and also claims the officers at the scene would not allow Melvin's mother to go into the ambulance with Melvin.

He claims upon his arrival at the jail, deputy Robert McGee told him that he would start the bail paperwork, but five minutes later came back and informed him that he would be released.

According to the complaint, Kay was also released without being charged. They learned that their son died.

Robert and Kay claim the defendants subjected them to an "unreasonable seizure" in violation of due process rights protected under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.

"The unreasonable seizure was in violation of clearly established law," the complaint states.

Robert claims the conduct of the defendants was not "objectively reasonable" and that there were no reasonable grounds for the officers to think that a crime was committed.

Robert and Kay claims the acts of the defendants were intentional, wanton, malicious, evil, and oppressive and exhibited a reckless indifference to their federally protected rights entitling them to an award of punitive damages.

They are also seeking damages under the wrongful death statute claiming the officers owed Melvin a duty to exercise the highest degree of care for his safety, but instead acted in a "menacing manner" which raised the tension causing Melvin to shoot himself.

"The defendants' conduct was willfull, wanton, careless and negligent," the complaint states.

Robert and Kay claim Melvin as a result of the defendants negligence, Melvin suffered pain and suffering prior to his death.

They also claim they have been deprived of Melvin's comfort, companionship, guidance, and instruction as a result of his death.

Represented by James Bennett of St. Louis, Robert and Kay are seeking compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $75,000.

The case has been assigned to District Judge Michael Reagan.

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