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Court rules in favor of Duke University, police in shooting death suit

Court has ruled in favor of Duke and two of its officers in the 2010 shooting death of a man outside the school's hospital

By Keith Upchurch
The Herald-Sun

DURHAM, N.C. — The North Carolina Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of Duke University and two of its officers in the 2010 shooting death of a man outside the school's hospital.

A lawsuit was filed on behalf of the estate of 25-year-old Aaron Lorenzo Dorsey, alleging that Duke Officers Larry Carter and Jeffrey Liberto used unreasonable force when Dorsey was shot to death during a scuffle.

Duke said the March 13, 2010, shooting happened about 1 a.m. after Dorsey fought the officers and reached for one of their weapons. The lawsuit accused the school of improper supervision and training of its police officers.

The State Bureau of Investigation reviewed the shooting, and then-District Attorney Tracey Cline didn't pursue criminal charges.
Durham County Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner dismissed a lawsuit against Duke and the officers in 2013.

In its ruling this week, the Appeals Court said evidence failed to show the officers' actions were "corrupt or malicious" and affirmed the lower court's findings.

Dorsey was shot after family members of a man being treated at Duke University Hospital's intensive-care unit complained to a security guard about a panhandler near the hospital's entrance.

The guard asked Dorsey if he was visiting someone in the hospital. Dorsey said he wasn't, and was told to leave.

When Dorsey failed to leave, the security guard called Duke police, who arrived and asked Dorsey for identification.

Dorsey turned from the officers and started walking away when Liberto grabbed him and a struggle followed, according to testimony. Carter went to help his fellow officer, and Dorsey grabbed Carter's gun and tried to remove it from the holster.

"Officer Carter pressed down on Mr. Dorsey's hand or hands, attempting to prevent Mr. Dorsey from obtaining the weapon," the court found. "Officer Carter was yelling: 'He's got my gun. He's getting my gun.' "

Liberto released Dorsey and began hitting him with his fists and police baton. Carter ended up struggling with Dorsey on the ground.

Liberto repeatedly asked if Dorsey had Carter's gun, and both officers ordered Dorsey to release the weapon.

"The officers were not able to subdue Mr. Dorsey and, at some point during the struggle, Officer Liberto drew his service weapon and shot Mr. Dorsey in the head at close range," the court said.

Dorsey died at the scene.

Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations at Duke University, released the following statement: "Our sympathies go first to the Dorsey family on the loss of their loved one. We are grateful the court has affirmed that Duke's police officers acted properly to protect the safety of the public and themselves."

Michael R. Dezsi, a Detroit attorney who represented the Dorsey estate, could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

Copyright 2014 The Herald-Sun

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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