It started four years ago when a parent picking up their child from school called police after hearing "loud, obscene music" coming from a garage at a home across the street.
St. Lucie County sheriff's deputies arrived and shot the man in the garage, claiming they were in fear for their lives.
The deputies claimed Gregory Vaughn Hill had pointed a gun at them before closing his garage door, so they opened fire, the bullets tearing through the garage door, killing Vaughn.
When deputies entered the garage, they found Vaughn laying facedown, an unloaded gun in his pocket. An autopsy later determined that Vaughn was drunk when he was shot with a blood-alcohol content nearly five times the legal limit.
Last week, a federal jury awarded Hill's family four cents after determining the deputies did not use excessive force when killing Hill but that the agency's sheriff was "slightly negligent."
And by slightly negligent, they meant one percent negligent, claiming that Vaughn deserves 99 percent of the blame that resulted in his killing because he was drunk.
Mr. Hill, a 30-year-old African-American, was fatally shot by a white sheriff’s deputy who had responded to a noise complaint about music Mr. Hill had been playing in his garage. Toxicology reports showed Mr. Hill was drunk at the time. And after a brief encounter with the deputies, he was discovered dead inside the garage with a gun in his back pocket; the deputies said he had been holding it during their confrontation, though that claim is in dispute. Mr. Hill had been shot three times by one of the deputies, Christopher Newman.
Among other things, a federal jury hearing a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by Mr. Hill’s family was asked to decide whether his constitutional rights had been violated and whether his estate should be awarded damages. How much, jurors were asked, were the pain and suffering of Mr. Hill’s three children worth?
Last week, the jurors delivered their verdict. Deputy Newman had not used excessive force, they concluded, but the St. Lucie County sheriff, Ken Mascara, had been ever so slightly negligent given Deputy Newman’s actions. The jury awarded $4 in damages: $1 for funeral expenses and $1 for each child’s loss.
Because jurors also found that the sheriff’s office was only 1 percent at fault in the death, that award was reduced to four cents. And furthermore, because jurors found that Mr. Hill was intoxicated and mostly to blame for the shooting, a lawyer for his family said Tuesday that a judge would reduce the four-cent award to nothing.
The deputies were not wearing body cameras and there were only three witnesses, including the two deputies and the man they killed.
So the jurors apparently were taking the word of deputies as gospel, believing that Hill pointed a gun at them while closing the garage door, then managing to place the gun in his back pocket as he was getting shot.
And because an autopsy determined Hill has a blood-alcohol content of .40, the jurors used that detail to fault him for his own death.
However, blood-alcohol content readings are not accurate because post-mortem fermentation in the body can send readings soaring.
John Phillips, attorney for Hill's family, said Hill was doing nothing more but hanging out in his "man cave" at home, drinking and listening to music, not wanting to bother anybody when he was killed.
“We all have our own little getaway time, and because he was drinking beer and listening to Drake, I don’t think that makes him a threat,” Phillips said.