Settlement conference set for Mardis suit

U.S. magistrate orders mediation effort

In hopes of avoiding yet another emotionally draining trial, the attorneys for the family of young Jeremy Mardis will meet next month with attorneys of defendants in a federal lawsuit seeking damages for the boy’s death.

The Nov. 3, 2015 shooting death of 6-year-old Jeremy and the critical wounding of his father Christopher Few at the hands of two part-time Marksville City Marshal deputies made national and international headlines.

“My clients have been through a lot and they want it to be over,” attorney Mark Jeansonne said. “We hope we are able to resolve this without a trial.”

The two-day settlement conference is scheduled for March 28-29 in the federal courthouse in Alexandria. Jeansonne and Baton Rouge attorney Stephen Lemoine represent Few and other family members of Jeremy Mardis.

Last year the two officers involved were tried, convicted and sentenced for crimes related to the shooting incident.

Derrick Stafford, who fired 14 bullets into Few’s stopped or almost stopped vehicle, was convicted of manslaughter and attempted manslaughter. He was sentenced to a total of 40 years. He is appealing his sentence.

Just prior to jury selection in his trial, Norris Greenhouse Jr. pleaded guilty to negligent homicide and malfeasance by a police officer. He was sentenced to a total of 7 1/2 years. Greenhouse fired four bullets that night, but forensic tests could not match any of the bullets in the victims to his firearm.

Both are serving their sentences at Wade Correctional Center near Homer in Claiborne Parish.

Besides Stafford and Greenhouse, other defendants in the suit include the City of Marksville and the Ward 2/Marksville City Marshal’s Office.

Jeansonne said U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph H.L. Perez-Montes took the initiative to force parties to try to reach an out-of-court settlement. Perez-Montes signed an order on Jan. 19 scheduling the settlement conference and instructing attorneys for all parties to try to reach an agreement prior to that conference.

“Both parties are supposed to approach this process in good faith,” Jeansonne said. “We hope the defendants come to the table with an appropriate settlement offer.”

If the defendants refuse to offer settlement or offer only a token settlement, the suit will have to go to trial, he noted.

The magistrate indicated he will hold a telephone conference with attorneys on March 14 to get an update on progress toward reaching a settlement.

Marksville City Attorney Derrick Whittington said the city will be participating in the settlement conference.

“This is an effort for mediation,” Whittington said. We will participate and see where things go from there.”

The magistrate also encouraged the city to try to resolve other suits pending against its police department. Some, but not all, involve Stafford and/or Greenhouse.

Whittington said other cases, including at least one other federal case, will likely be discussed as part of this effort.

EVENTS OF NOV. 3, 2015

The lawsuit was filed in federal court on Oct. 27, 2016 -- almost a year after the tragic events at the dead-end of Martin Luther King Drive in Marksville.

On that night, Few had gone to a nightspot with his then-girlfriend Megan Dixon. They argued and she left with a group of friends. Few went to pick up his son, Jeremy, at a relative’s home where he had been left.

While going home, he spotted the van that Dixon was in. He stopped, went to the van, attempted to persuade her to come home with him and she refused. Few drove away.

At that time, Greenhouse attempted to have Few pull over. Few testified in trial that he did not pull over because he was afraid how his son -- who was autistic -- would react. He said he was trying to get home and that he planned to deal with the police issue there.

Another patrol vehicle cut off Few’s route home, which forced him to turn down Martin Luther King Drive. In all, three patrol vehicles participated in the slow-speed chase in Marksville.

At the dead-end of that street, at the entrance to the Marksville State Historic Site park and museum, Greenhouse and fellow deputy marshal Stafford pulled their guns and fired into Few’s vehicle.

Both men claimed they feared for their lives. However, a body camera video of a Marksville Police Department officer showed Few’s vehicle either stopped or slowly moving away from the officers.

The video also showed that Few’s hands were raised prior to the sound of gunfire.

Few was critically wounded in the head and chest. Jeremy, who was seat belted in the front passenger seat, was fatally wounded and died at the scene.

The body camera video recorded officers saying the boy had a pulse while they were examining the scene.

The lawsuit claims Jeremy suffered greatly in his last few minutes of life and calls the officers’ actions a “barbaric and excessive use of force.”

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