A Syracuse man who was shot by police as he tried to flee a Mattydale burglary in a stolen PT Cruiser in 2014 is allowed to continue his lawsuit against police officers, a judge ruled this month.
Police said Donald Martin, 51, was shot as he tried to “ram” his way out of a traffic stop following a burglary at the Quickway on East Molloy Road on Dec. 1, 2014. Martin, who was living in a men’s shelter in Syracuse at the time, later admitted to participating in the burglary.
He and another man broke into the Quickway and stole cigarettes, court papers said. As police arrived to investigate, Martin tried to drive away in a stolen vehicle. Three officers, Matthew Carey, Andrew Costello and Daniel Klasen — all in separate vehicles — boxed Martin in at a nearby intersection, according to the court papers.
Police said Martin tried to get out of the jam by reversing his vehicle and accelerating back and forth, placing the officers in danger. That’s when Carey fired into the vehicle for fear of his and the other officers’ safety, police said.
Martin, who is representing himself in the civil lawsuit against Onondaga County and the three officers, claims he did not attempt to escape once the officers had him boxed in. He contends he never placed the officers in any danger.
Martin pleaded guilty to the robbery and an assault charge related to his conduct with the vehicle. Martin claimed he admitted to the assault as part of a plea deal, but maintains that his actions did not warrant the use of force by the officers.
U.S. District Court Senior Judge Thomas McAvoy dismissed Martin’s claims against the county. Martin had tried to show that the sheriff’s department failed to train its officers.
But McAvoy allowed Martin to continue his lawsuit against the three officers.
He ruled it was up to a jury to decide whether it was reasonable for the officers to use deadly force against Martin.
The judge’s order means Martin’s case is likely headed to trial. Martin is also now eligible for a free lawyer to represent him for the rest of the case.
Martin so far has drafted his own legal arguments and filings to the court from the Orleans Correctional Facility in Western New York, where he is serving an eight-year prison sentence.