The family of Fred Cox, an 18-year-old Black man fatally shot by a sheriff's deputy at a funeral in North Carolina last November, filed a wrongful death lawsuit alleging he was trying to protect a mother and her son from a drive-by shooting at the time.
"Fred is dead for being a hero while Black," Ben Crump, the civil rights attorney representing Cox's family, said at a press conference on Wednesday.
The federal lawsuit filed against the Davidson County Sheriff's Office and Deputy Michael Shane Hill seeks damages on six counts, including the use of excessive force, wrongful death, battery, and negligence, and the violation of Cox's Fourth and 14th Amendments.
The complaint said that Hill used "unreasonable and deadly force" on Cox while he was "saving the lives of a mother and her young son."
On Nov. 8, 2020, Cox was at the Living Water Baptist Church in High Point attending the memorial service of Jonas Thompson, who had recently been killed. Hill, a plainclothes sheriff's deputy investigating Thompson's murder, was also at the funeral at the request of the victim's family.
A crowd was leaving the funeral service when shots rang out from a drive-by shooting outside the church. Cox was sitting in his car in the parking lot on the other side of the building. During the ensuing chaos, he left his car to run into the church and held the door open for a mother and her 12-year-old child, who were searching for cover, the lawsuit states.
While Cox held the door, Hill shot him multiple times from behind, killing him at the scene. He was the only person who died during the incident.
The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, which investigated the shooting, initially said that Hill had reported seeing Cox with a handgun at the time he shot him and that other witnesses had observed a handgun near him after he was shot.
However, Cox's family and their attorneys have disputed that claim, saying he was unarmed.
A lawyer for the mother and the child who took cover inside the church said Wednesday that Cox could not have been holding a gun as he was using one hand to open the church door and his other to usher them inside during the shooting.
Crump said that Hill continued to shoot at all three of them and that the 12-year-old boy's hand was grazed by a bullet.
"Fred Cox saved the mother and son’s lives before he fell, making sure they were safe inside the church before he tried to enter," the complaint states.
Authorities also said there was no evidence Cox was in a gang or that he had discharged a weapon. But Hill will not face any criminal charges; a Guilford County grand jury decided not to indict him in June.
Attorneys for the Cox family said they believe Hill continues to be employed by the sheriff's office and has faced no disciplinary actions for the shooting.
The sheriff's office did not respond to requests for comment.
"I can't say enough times that Fred should not be dead," Cox's mother, Tenicka Shannon, said at the news conference.
"Our family is still in deep grief," Shannon added while breaking down. "Our sadness is compounded with sheer confusion about how this tragedy possibly could have happened."
Shannon said that her only child was a well-mannered man who "would give you the clothes off his back."
"For so long, we have seen marginalized people stopped and injured by police for driving while Black, riding a bicycle while Black, or walking down the street while Black," Crump said in a statement. "But this young man was shot in the back by an officer while trying to save lives in a very dangerous situation."