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Ronnie Clark v State of Louisiana and Troopers Lt Sunseri and Sgt Dorris




Defense Illustration



[1[ Clark Case Court Ruling - Reasons for Judgment Nov 8 02




Ronnie G Clark Versus State of Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections, Lt Michael Sunseri, & Sgt William Dorris


Civil Lawsuit Resulting from Alleged Unjustified Shooting of Armed Felon Ronnie G Clark on March 19 1994.




This case is most notable for the lengthy battle that took place between the opposing experts. Plaintiff had hired Criminalist Lucien (Luke) Haag of Carefree Arizona, and the Defense had hired, among others, firearms expert Paul Dougherty of California, and world renowned gunshot wound expert Dr Martin (Marty) Fackler MD of Florida. Both sides attempted to reconcile technical and scientific evidence with witness testimony. The technical evidence is discussed in more detail below. Ultimately, the Court considered the eyewitness testimony to be credible, and ruled that the state troopers were justified in their use of (potentially) deadly force.



Synopsis of Court's Findings


The case is succinctly summarised in the 10 page document "Reasons for Judgment" written by presiding Judge Emile R St Pierre on 8th November 2002 [1]. The trial lasted four weeks and the court heard testimony from 14 fact witnesses, and 10 expert witnesses.


On March 19 2004 convicted felon Ronnie Clark was travelling from Texas to Florida for an appointment with his parole officer to discuss potential parole violations in that state. Ronnie Clark was riding a Yamaha motorcycle and was armed with a loaded 45 caliber semi-automatic pistol. Ronnie Clark was riding through the State of Louisiana on Interstate 10 at speeds in excess of 120 mph and was involved in a high speed chase with several Louisiana State Troopers. Mr Clark failed to stop, periodically forced slower moving traffic off the road, and reached for his pistol several times during the chase. The Louisiana State Police set up a roadblock ahead of the pursuit, in the vicinity of the I-10 / I-310 interchange.


The police roadblock was manned by two Louisiana State Troopers; Lt Michael Sunseri, and Sergeant William Dorris. Lt Sunseri was armed with a 12 gauge shotgun loaded with 00 buckshot and Sgt Dorris with a 9mm pistol. As Mr Clark approached the roadblock he directed his motorcycle toward Lt Sunseri, and accelerated toward the officer in an attempt to run the roadblock.  The officers felt endangered and fired upon Mr Clark. Lt Sunseri fired his 12 gauge shotgun twice, and Sgt Dorris fired his 9mm pistol 3 times. Mr Clark was hit 3 times. One wound to his spine resulted in him being paralysed from the waist down.


Mr Clark alleged that the officers fired at him when he was well past their position at the roadblock, while the troopers argued that they acted in self defense / defense of a fellow officer. The Court ruled that a defense of self defense was an affirmative one, placing the burden of proof upon the LA State Police and officers Sunseri and Dorris.


The Court was tasked to determine whether the shooting of Ronnie Clark was an appropriate response in light of the danger faced by Lt Sunseri and/or Sgt Dorris, or instead constituted an unjustified use of deadly force.


The Court noted that while the case involved a lot of expert analysis and testimony, it ultimately turned more on the testimony of lay witnesses rather than experts. The Court ruled that Mr Clark was the aggressor and that the testimony of eyewitnesses was crucial to that finding. The Court stated that the sincerity and candor of the eyewitnesses was impressive. Importantly, the Court emphasised that all eyewitnesses (called by both Plaintiff & Defendant) testified that the firing of the weapons occurred within a few seconds, successively, without interruption. The Court further emphasised that it was impressed by the testimony of Lt Sunseri and Sgt Dorris, and that it considered both of them to be "sincere, believable, and candid witnesses."


Further "The Court is convinced that Sgt Dorris' motives in firing were purely and simply in the defense of a fellow officer." and "The Court is further convinced that Lt Sunseri's actions were justified and reasonable under the circumstances."


Eyewitness, civilian motorist Lehman Davis, testified that Lt Sunseri fired the first shotgun round as Mr Clark passed his vehicle, and that he fired the second shot as he was jumping out of the way of Mr Clark's approaching motorcycle. The Court noted that both officers ceased firing when the immediate danger had passed, and that Sgt Dorris had fired only 3 of the 16 rounds in his pistol.


With regard to the testimony of Mr Clark the Court stated "In essence, Mr. Clark is acknowledging that he has distorted the reality of what transpired on the day of the incident."


Finally, the Court concluded that:

"For the foregoing reasons, this Court finds that plaintiff, Ronnie Clark, was the aggressor on March 19, 1994, that his actions placed Lt. Michael Suneri in reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm, that his actions gave Sgt. William Dorris reasonable fear that a fellow law enforcement officer was in danger of death or great bodily harm. and that the use of deadly force by both Lt. Sunseri and Sgt. Dorris was reasonably necessary under the circumstances. Accordingly, there will be judgment denying all relief sought by plaintiff herein. Hahnville, Louisiana. this 8th day of November, 2002."



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John Nixon, firearms expert, Bippus, Indiana