Dothan, Alabama – After almost six years of seeking justice for the shooting of Robert Earl Lawrence, the court has finally sided with the family and the cop responsible for his death will face a civil rights suit.
On Thursday, a federal appeals court declined to grant qualified immunity to an Alabama police officer who shot and killed Lawrence “without warning” for failing to show identification after he attempted to help a stray dog his family found in a parking lot.
The 30-year-old father was shot and killed by an Alabama police officer in front of his children on Dec. 30, 2014. Lawrence, his girlfriend, and his three young children—all under 10-years-old—had found a stray dog in the parking lot of a Walmart. The family put the dog in their car and drove to the Dothan Animal Shelter to attempt to save its life.
When Lawrence tried to turn the dog in, workers at the animal shelter requested that he show his ID. Instead of a government-issued driver’s license, Lawrence showed them a document called an “Affidavit of Identity” that is used by sovereign citizens as a form of protest against police identification requests. Staff at the shelter told him he couldn’t drop the dog off without a state-issued driver’s license, so Lawrence said he would leave and take the dog somewhere else.
“The receptionist told Lawrence that they accepted dogs only from residents of Houston County,” the court notes. “He told her that he was from nearby Geneva County but had found the dog in Houston County. She agreed to take the dog but asked for his identification. He refused to provide it, claiming that being required to do so would violate his federal privacy rights.”
A brief argument ensued and Dothan Police Sergeant Adrianne Woodruff entered the room–reiterating the shelter’s policy about accepting strays and advising Lawrence to fill out an intake form. He declined and left the shelter, “carrying the dog with him,” saying he would just leave the animal on the road.
Woodruff followed Lawrence outside to the shelter’s parking lot and warned him that dumping the dog would be considered a crime. As Lawrence got into his car, Woodruff grabbed him from behind and said “You’re not leaving.”
Lawrence got out of his car and accused Sergeant Woodruff of violating the U.S. Constitution and asked for his “Affidavit of Identity” back. Woodruff shouted back, “You’re not driving out of here without a driver’s license! Which part of that don’t you understand?”
When Officer Alan Rhodes arrived on the scene a brief back-and-forth ensued before he attempted to handcuff and arrest Lawrence.
According to the court notes, “Rhodes grabbed Lawrence and tried to turn him around to handcuff him. They struggled and Rhodes put him in a chokehold. Sergeant Woodruff joined in the tussle to assist Rhodes, and the two of them held Lawrence with his back pushed against the rear driver’s side door of the car.”
During the struggle, Rhodes attempted to tase Lawrence multiple times but was unable to because Lawrence’s jacket stopped the firing prong from connecting. Rhodes gained control over Lawrence, however, and said in his testimony that he was not going to let him go until another officer arrived.
Rhodes gave his Taser to Woodruff, who was able to successfully use it against Lawrence. A third officer then intervened in the scuffle. Seconds later, Woodruff shot and killed Lawrence.
“While being held by an officer who outweighed him by 75 pounds, another officer tased him at least twice in the abdomen,” Carnes continues. “When he grabbed at the taser in an attempt to avoid being tased again, he and two of the three officers struggled over it, but Lawrence never gained control of it. At that point the officer who had been tasing him let go of the taser, drew her firearm, and fatally shot him without warning, all in the space of three seconds.”