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Wednesday, February 07, 2018 1:00 am

Judge OKs suit from man shot by officer

Encountered FWPD after robbing retailer

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

A federal judge rejected a request by a Fort Wayne police officer who shot an unarmed robber in 2015 to throw out an excessive-force lawsuit.

Daniel Hartman shot Anthony Gant in the abdomen as he was leaving a Dollar General store on East State Boulevard in August 2015. Hartman said he thought Gant, who had just robbed the store with another man, was holding a gun. 

Gant had a BB gun when he robbed the store, but left it in the store, court documents said.

Gant filed a lawsuit in November 2016 in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne, seeking compensatory and punitive damages. Hartman, police Officers Jason Palm and Bradley Griffin, and the city of Fort Wayne were listed as defendants.

In December 2015, Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards said Hartman would not be charged for shooting Gant.

Hartman filed a motion for summary judgment – a decision in which a judge rules in favor of a party in a lawsuit without a trial – in October. Judge Theresa Springmann denied the request in part, allowing the case to go forward.

The other officers and the city were removed from the case, Springmann ruled.

Hartman argued in court documents he is protected by qualified immunity, which shields government officials from liability as long as their conduct “does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights.”

“A reasonable juror” could find that, because he was not holding a gun when he was shot, Gant was trying to obey Hartman's orders to stop and get down on the ground, Springmann wrote in her decision.

“Therefore, the court cannot grant summary judgment as to qualified immunity regarding the plaintiff's claim for excessive force against ... Hartman,” the 16-page ruling stated.

Gant's lawsuit claimed the officers denied him medical care and failed to intervene when Hartman shot him. The judge said neither the officers nor the city can be sued for those claims.

She also ruled against a claim by Gant that the city failed to appropriately train its officers.

Gant and Christopher Johnson entered the dollar store, 3121 E. State Blvd., the evening of Aug. 23, 2015. Gant had a gun, according to court documents, pointed it at a clerk and demanded money.

The gun was later identified as a BB gun, police said.

Gant was shot as he exited the store. He and Johnson each pleaded guilty to robbing the store.

A scheduling conference is set for March 6, according to online court records.

mleblanc@jg.net