Man shot by Lynchburg police files lawsuit against officers

Walker Sigler (center), his wife Kate Sigler (left) and their attorney John Lichtenstein (right) leave Lynchburg Circuit Court on Monday, March 25.

A Lynchburg man shot and injured by police in 2018 has filed a federal lawsuit accusing the officers of violating his constitutional rights and acting with “gross negligence” when they fired into his home.

The civil suit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Lynchburg, claims that Lynchburg Police Officers Edward Ferron, 42, and Savannah Simmons, 23, acted “unreasonably” when they shot Walker Sigler in his Link Road house in the early morning hours of Feb. 17, 2018. Sigler is seeking $12 million in damages.

Prosecutors have said a team of five officers were investigating an open front door deemed suspicious on the night of the shooting. Sigler, who had been awoken by the police presence, was shot when Ferron and Simmons mistook him for an attacker.

In a news release late Tuesday, the Lynchburg Police Department acknowledged it was “aware of the pending litigation” but declined to offer further comment. According to the release, Ferron voluntarily resigned from the department on April 26 and Simmons is on administrative leave without pay pending the result of an internal investigation.

Ferron and Simmons are the only defendants named in the suit. It is unclear if they have been served. Lynchburg City Attorney Walter Erwin said Wednesday morning he was aware of the suit but had not yet read the complaint. He said the city will represent both defendants in court.

The lawsuit comes more than two months after Ferron and Simmons pleaded no contest to misdemeanor criminal charges stemming from the incident. As part of the plea deal, the two avoided jail time and were ordered to serve 100 hours of community service.

In Lynchburg Circuit Court, the officer’s lawyers argued police had reason to believe a crime had been committed inside the home and that Ferron and Simmons feared for their safety when they heard Sigler approach the open front door, unaware he was the home’s owner.

The civil complaint accuses the officers of violating Sigler’s fourth and fourteenth amendment rights when they attempted to “search and seize” the home without a warrant. The lawsuit seeks $12 million in damages.

“There was no justification in law and no reason in fact for their decision to draw their loaded firearms and, without a warrant and without any threat to their safety, to enter the Siglers’ home,” the complaint states.

The complaint, filed by attorney John Lichtenstein, also alleges the officers were “grossly negligent” when they opened fire into the Siglers’ home. Police officers hold qualified immunity from civil lawsuits over simple negligence, but have no legal protection when their conduct rises to “gross” negligence.

The suit largely repeats the same narrative outlined in a seven-page report compiled by Bryan Porter, the special prosecutor appointed to oversee the criminal case. The complaint says Sigler was asleep on a couch in the first floor den when police approached the front of the home with guns drawn.

The police calls announcing their presence awoke Sigler and he walked towards the front door to find the barrel of a gun pointing through the opening. He quickly shut the door, the lawsuit states.

“When Mr. Sigler first shut the door, the door did not latch, but instead rebounded to a partly open position. With a second push, Mr. Sigler shut the door and it latched and remained shut,” the complaint says.

After entering no contest pleas in March, attorneys for the officers argued the sound of the closing door and the sight of Sigler caused the officers to fear for their safety and to fire their weapons.

Ferron told investigators that he saw a “clenched first” come from behind the door “for a second.” He admitted that he did not see anything in the fist, according to the report compiled by Porter, who also serves as the Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney.

Ferron and Simmons both fired twice into the home. One round fired by Simmons traveled through the home’s door and struck Sigler, the complaint states.

Sigler was “catastrophically and permanently injured” as a result of the shooting, according to the complaint. He was hit in his right thigh, shattering his femur. Blood loss resulted in permanent vision impairment and since the shooting he has undergone several surgeries.

“Mr. Sigler’s actions were not in any way threatening,” the complaint states, “and reasonable police officers in the subject circumstances would not have perceived a threat and would not have reacted by firing at the front door and at the closed front door.”

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Richard Chumney covers breaking news and public safety for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5547. 

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