Settlement Unlikely in Lawsuit Against Arkansas State Police Over Bean Bag Round Injury

In a recent court filing, an attorney for the man who is suing the Arkansas State Police said that it seems “unlikely” that a settlement will be reached. Don Lloyd Cook, who was 61 at the time, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas in 2022 after a police bean bag round hit him in the face during a George Floyd protest outside the Arkansas Capitol in 2020.

Cook’s head and jaw were badly hurt by the projectile, so he had to have surgery right away. Cook was later arrested at his home in July 2021 for obstructing government operations during the protest, which was a misdemeanor. But in the end, the charge was dropped because of a deal made before the trial.

At a news conference in June 2022, Cook, a lawyer, told reporters that he went to the Capitol protest because he “needed to be there as a citizen.” The week of Jan. 22, 2024, has been set aside for a trial with a jury. In a status report filed with the court on September 29, Michael Laux, Cook’s lawyer, said that a settlement conference had not been set up.

“Settlement chances don’t look good,” Laux wrote. He also said that the plaintiff had asked for a meeting to talk about a settlement, but the defendants had “strongly declined.” Earlier in September, Laux filed a motion to get the lawsuit against five unnamed state police officials, who were called “John Does 1-5” in the complaint, thrown out.

The other defendants are State Police Corporal Ryan Wingo, who fired the bean bag that hit Cook, Captains Jeff Sheeler and John Joe, and Col. William Bryant, who used to be the head of the State Police. In their own status report, filed on September 28, lawyers for the defendants who work for the Arkansas attorney general’s office wrote, “The parties have not met for any formal settlement conferences.” Like Laux, they wrote that a settlement is “currently unlikely.”

On the same day, the defense lawyers filed a motion for summary judgment. They said, among other things, that the police officers had the right to qualified immunity on all of Cook’s claims. The Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School defines qualified immunity as “a type of legal immunity that protects a government official from lawsuits alleging that the official violated a plaintiff’s rights. Officials can only be sued if they violated a “clearly established” statutory or constitutional right.”

Attorneys for the state wrote, “Corporal Ryan Wingo did not use too much force against Cook, and even if he had, there was no case law that clearly ruled on the situation.” “Thus, Cook’s alleged right was not clearly established, and Corporal Wingo is entitled to qualified immunity.”

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