The family of a Harker Heights veteran shot and killed by a Bell County Sheriff’s deputy in August 2016 withdrew a police brutality suit Friday after a federal judge recommended the case be dismissed.
The estate of Navy veteran Lyle P. Blanchard, 59, filed a voluntary motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed March 24 in the U.S. Western District Court in Waco alleging Cpl. Shane Geers exercised excessive use of force during a failed traffic stop and pursuit that led to Blanchard’s death Aug. 30, 2016. Ranco said Monday the voluntary dismissal was a “procedural decision,” and the family would be refiling the complaint in federal court.
According to a Texas Rangers investigation into the incident, Blanchard led Geers onto a private drive in the 12900 block of Farm-to-Market 2410 before stopping his vehicle, stepping out and reaching for his pocket.
Geers fired his service weapon eight times, striking Blanchard, who was not armed, four times and killing him. An autopsy found Blanchard had alcohol in his system at the time of the incident, as well as traces of antihistamines. A Bell County grand jury cleared Geers of all criminal charges in the incident Feb. 15.
In a recommendation filed July 25, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman dismissed the family’s claims Geers exercised excessive use of force, saying the facts of the incident support Geers’ legal immunity as a peace officer.
“The Court finds that reasonable officers could have interpreted Blanchard’s actions as drawing an immediately dangerous weapon and, thus, as a sufficient threat,” Pitman wrote. “Furthermore, the Court finds that the law is not clearly established such that reasonable officers could not have disagreed about the legality of (Geers’) action.”
Pitman also recommended dismissing further claims against the Bell County Sheriff’s Department and Texas Ranger Lt. Jim Hatfield, who were named as defendants in the suit.
Pitman said Hatfield, who executed a search warrant on Blanchard’s home following the shooting, had sufficient probable cause to request the warrant.
“The complaint makes only broad and conclusory allegations about the legality of the warrant, and does not include sufficient factual information or legal bases to support the allegations,” Pitman wrote.
Hatfield was added to the lawsuit May 18 when an amended complaint by Rob Ranco, of the Carlson Law firm, claimed he violated constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure by searching Blanchard’s home postmortem.
“It is not common police procedure to investigate a dead man for aggravated assault,” the amended complaint read. “It would be a violation of Blanchard’s Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and 14th Amendment to be searched and then tried in absentia as well as a waste of Bell County resources.”