William Quigley Photo courtesy of Loyola University New Orleans
NEW ORLEANS — When a woman and her son filed a civil lawsuit in the death of her boyfriend and father of her child, she set herself up for a long legal road, according to one law professor.
According to Orleans Parish Civil District Court records, cited in a report by The Advocate, Tyshara Blouin, 23, and her young son, Carter Eric Harris, have filed a civil lawsuit against Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies and Sheriff Newell Normand. They are seeking unspecified damages in the Feb. 8, 2016, shooting death of Eric Harris, 22, in Central City. The child is Harris’ son with Blouin.
According to police records, Harris was fatally shot by Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies in 2016 in New Orleans.
William Quigley, a law professor and director of the Law Clinic and the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center at Loyola University in New Orleans, said the case may present its unique challenges, but nothing that cannot be overcome.
“The family has to prove by a preponderance of evidence, or 51 percent, that law enforcement wrongly shot him,” he said.
According to Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office records, Harris was pursued by deputies Kenneth Bonura and Henry DeJean after he allegedly threatened an ex-girlfriend at a mall.
According to reports, a brief chase ensured and Harris crashed his car. Normand said that deputies shot and killed Harris when he started backing toward them, The Advocate reported.
Quigley said this will be a key point in the case for both sides.
“The family's lawyer will be attempting to prove that there was no need to shoot the man,” he said. “Law enforcement will try to prove they were in fear of their lives and shot in self-defense.”
While the results of a joint FBI-New Orleans Police Department investigation into the shooting of Harris have not been released, Quigley said this information will be vital to attorneys on both sides of the case.
“The results of the FBI investigation will be important but all parties know that the standards in a criminal investigation are much higher than in civil court,” he said. “So, while of great interest to both parties, the results will not determine the outcome of the civil case.”
Quigley added that these sort of cases usually take a long time to nail down all the facts, take statements from everyone involved, have experts examine the evidence and then get ready for trial.
“Most civil cases settle before trial,but this will be a hard case on everyone involved,” he said.
And with cases like this usually ending in lawsuits, Quigley said it shouldn’t have any bearing on the way law enforcement performs its duties.
“Law enforcement is well aware that injury or death in the course of an arrest will likely bring lawsuits,” he said. “Changes are often made when it becomes clear that a serious mistake was made.”
Earlier this year, Jefferson Parish prosecutors brought a charge of accessory to aggravated assault with a firearm against Blouin. According to sheriff’s reports, she was with Harris during the shopping-mall incident. Her problems could become an issue in the case.
“These will be problems, but they will not be insurmountable,” Quigley noted.
As for the prospects for the case, Quigley said attorneys on both sides may face “years of hard work” ahead of them.