NEW YORK (Reuters) – David Collie, a Fort Worth, Texas, man whose bid to hold police liable for shooting him in the back and leaving him paralyzed was blocked by the legal doctrine known as qualified immunity, has died at age 38.
The cause of death has not been determined, according to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s office, pending the outcome of an autopsy.
Paralyzed from the waist down after the 2016 shooting, Collie suffered from pressure wounds, infections, post-traumatic stress disorder and bouts of severe depression. His mother, Pamela McCloud, said his condition deteriorated in recent weeks as he nearly stopped eating and refused wound care and other treatments.
“David said, ‘I’m tired, I can’t go through it no more, I can’t go through it no more.’ He said that a lot,” McCloud added.
Collie’s shooting and subsequent lawsuit against the police were detailed in “Shielded,” a multipart Reuters series that revealed how qualified immunity, created 50 years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court, has made it increasingly difficult to hold police accountable when they kill or seriously injure people. The doctrine is meant to protect government employees from frivolous civil lawsuits.
The Reuters series, which won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting, has been cited often in calls to abolish or restrict qualified immunity after the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and incidents like it prompted widespread demands for reform to reduce police violence against Black people.
Collie’s violent 2016 encounter with police and his subsequent lawsuit paralleled other cases that have fueled protests for racial justice and policing reform in recent years. The outcome of Collie’s case illustrated the core finding of the Reuters investigation that a series of Supreme Court rulings have turned qualified immunity into a nearly impenetrable legal shield for police who engage in violent behavior.
On a hot summer night, Collie, who was Black, was walking across the parking lot of his Fort Worth apartment complex to visit friends when police officers, who were searching for two Black suspects in a robbery involving tennis shoes, spotted him.
As the officers shouted commands at Collie, he continued to walk away, pulling his hand from his pocket to point, he later said, to where he was going. That was when officer Hugo Barron shot him in the back, puncturing one of his lungs and severing his spine.
Barron later said he thought Collie was reaching for a gun. Collie was carrying no gun and had nothing to do with the robbery.
Collie’s paralysis cost him his job and derailed his plans to return to college. Barron was not disciplined or charged with any wrongdoing. In a federal lawsuit, Collie accused Barron of excessive force, a civil rights violation under the U.S. Constitution.
Barron said he was entitled to qualified immunity because the force he used was reasonable, given the threat he perceived in the moment. The federal district judge hearing the case agreed. A federal appellate court, in upholding the lower court’s ruling, said Collie was “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Collie’s case was finished.
The Fort Worth Police Department declined to comment on Collie’s death. Barron still works as a patrol officer for the department.
(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)