Hearing on change of venue next month

David Garner is seeking to move out of Gulf COunty a civil trial concerning the death of a man in his custody nearly three years ago.

A hearing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. ET Feb. 8 before Circuit Judge James Goodman, Jr., to consider the motion from Garner’s attorney for a change in venue.

The judge has reserved 30 minutes to hear arguments.

The motion is the latest twist in a twisted tale that began Feb. 11, 2015 when a man died of a gunshot wound while in Garner’s custody inside the Port St. Joe Police Department station.

Jonathan Pierce, taken into custody by Garner, though never handcuffed or otherwise restrained, died from a single gunshot wound to the head.

Garner and Pierce were the only men in the station that night.

Garner has refused to provide any details on the record or under oath.

One of the central reasons for filing a civil lawsuit, as stated by the attorney for Paul Pierce, father of Jonathan, was to force Garner to provide details of that night under oath.

“The officer has never told his story…,” said attorney Bob Kerrigan. “(We want the jury trial) to get to the bottom of what really happened that night.”

The 14th Judicial Circuit medical examiner determined the fatal shot was self-inflicted.

The sole versions of the incident from Garner, detailed in an investigative report released by State Attorney Glenn Hess, were three conflicting versions to three different individuals in the hours after the shooting.

In addition, Garner’s body camera, working when he arrested Pierce and still working when the two returned to the police station, was inexplicably not recording at the time of the shooting.

Garner refused all interview requests during an investigation conducted initially by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and subsequently turned over the State Attorney’s Office.

And, in September, during a deposition regarding the events of that day, Garner chose to take the 5th amendment to all questions.

Not unusual in a criminal case, taking the 5th amendment to protect against self-incrimination is very unusual in a civil case since he is currently facing no criminal charges.

Garner said he would exercise his 5th amendment rights against self-incrimination in response to all questions pertaining to the day of the shooting, 6 a.m. until midnight on Feb. 11, 2015.

In addition to compelling Garner’s testimony regarding the events of that fateful night, Paul Pierce also wanted the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages, to culminate in a jury trial in Gulf County.

“We want to let the people of Port St. Joe decide,” Kerrigan said at the time the suit was filed.

Separate SAO and internal police department investigations found Garner violated a host of rules and regulations in his dealings with Jonathan Pierce.

Hess wrote that Garner’s actions were directly responsible for the death, but criminal charges were not filed.

Garner, after he was terminated from the police department, filed a wrongful termination/whistleblower lawsuit against the city, alleging that in the days prior to the shooting he was trying to bring to surface irregularities within the department.

That lawsuit was ultimately settled with Garner accepting only his accrued leave time.

In a separate worker’s compensation claim, Garner was awarded, over the objections of the city, $600,000.

Kerrigan called the worker’s compensation settlement “outrageous.”

The city of Port St. Joe is also, at this time, part of the lawsuit because Garner was an employee of the city at the time.

Any liability to the city would be financially capped at $200,000 by the state’s sovereign immunity laws.

Kerrigan argued in filing the lawsuit that Garner’s actions individually should be brought to bear outside the parameters of the sovereign immunity the city enjoys, based on the extent of the public-safety threat.

A section of that sovereign immunity statute, he said, pertains to issues involving public safety; in this case Garner actions were a “breach” of public safety.

“I think this case is a good one to show that he should be held liable outside the sovereign immunity law because of his material breach of safety,” Kerrigan said.