Inmate's David vs. Goliath Battle: Marvin Harris's Stunning Court Victory Over Augusta Co Sheriff
Written by: Sam Orlando
Staunton, VA - In a legal battle reminiscent of David and Goliath, Virginia inmate Marvin Harris has managed to keep his excessive force claim alive in federal court, representing himself against the formidable legal machinery of Augusta County. In what BLM Shenandoah Valley's Antwhon Suiter has described as a stunning victory, the court rejected the defendants’ motion to dismiss Harris’s lawsuit.
The case revolves around a harrowing event from October 2020. Harris, then a passenger in a friend’s vehicle, alleges that officers from the Augusta County Sheriff's Department used brutal, excessive force against him during an arrest. The resulting injuries, according to his mother, Shereba Harris, were extensive. They included fractured facial bones, damaged teeth, and the impact of a taser fired into his chest.
“They knocked his teeth out in the front, they fractured his jaw, both his eyes were blackened. He still had the taser...still stuck in his chest when he got to the hospital,” Shereba recounted in an interview, her voice filled with the sorrow and indignation of a mother forced to witness her son's suffering.
After the traumatic incident, Harris's health significantly declined. His injuries have resulted in chronic back problems, severe headaches, abscessed teeth, and intermittent vision problems. "He now has real bad headaches, his teeth are all messed up...He has problems with his back and sometimes he said it seems like he's going to blackout or he can't see,” Shereba added.
Despite the seemingly insurmountable odds stacked against him, Harris stood his ground, filing a § 1983 Complaint against the Augusta County Sheriff, Donald Smith, and four of his deputies, Investigator Chris Hillard, Deputy Jonathan Wells, Investigator Christopher Rosemeier, and Deputy CJ Taylor. His victory in this stage of his legal journey is significant, considering that most such lawsuits filed by inmates are dismissed.
Suiter, who leads the Shenandoah Valley's Black Lives Matter organization, underlined the importance of Harris's win, stating, "The Augusta County Sheriff, his deputies, their lawyers, and the very government of Augusta County got beat in Court by an inmate they physically beat and locked away. This is a sign that the Court system can work for everyone, particularly when someone is committed and passionate enough to learn the rules of Court and bring their own lawsuit."
Shereba expressed relief at the judge's refusal to dismiss her son's case. "I was excited and relieved to know that the judge denied their claim for dismissal, that this case would not be ignored or put in a file somewhere," she said. Despite the toll the ordeal has taken on her son and their family, she remains hopeful about the future of the lawsuit and believes in the pursuit of justice.
Despite the optimism, the brutal memories of the assault linger, leaving an indelible mark on Harris and his family. "There's really no amount of money that can ever help erase that night from my son," Shereba said. But she is hopeful that the court will do the right thing. "I have faith that the truth will surely come out," she said, emphasizing her belief in justice.
The case, as it continues to unfold, signifies much more than a personal victory for Marvin Harris. It is a stark reminder of the rampant issues of police brutality and excessive force. But it is also a beacon of hope - a testament to the power of individuals standing up against systemic wrongdoing, sparking critical conversations around accountability and justice. For Marvin Harris, this victory means he is one step closer to having his day in front of a Jury, prosecuting his case against the Augusta County Sheriff and the deputies accused of beating him.