Judge recuses himself from wrongful death lawsuit against city

Published 8:00 am Saturday, August 21, 2021

A federal judge has stepped down from presiding over a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the City of Oxford, police chief Jeff McCutchen and Matthew Kinne.

The lawsuit, filed by the family of Dominique Clayton, is demanding a jury trial and an unspecified amount in damages from the defendants. A former Oxford Police officer pleaded guilty earlier this month to killing Clayton in her home while she slept.

Judge Neal Biggers filed an order or recusal last Wednesday, removing himself from the case. In the order Biggers cites he is “personally acquainted with some of the parties and witnesses and potential parties and witnesses” involved in the lawsuit.

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With Biggers’ recusal, the case was sent back to the Clerk of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi for reassignment. Tupelo judge Glen Davidson is now the presiding judge over the case.

Due to the reassignment of judges, the City of Oxford and McCutchen requested an extension to respond to the lawsuit filed by attorney Carlos Moore on behalf of the Clayton family. The lawsuit was filed on Aug. 5 and due it being handled in a federal court, the defendants normally have 21 days to respond. The U.S .District Court in Oxford granted the request, giving the city and McCutchen until Oct. 5 to file their response, according to court documents.

The lawsuit claims that Kinne was acting under the color of law when he conducted a welfare check on Clayton, 32, and shot her in the head while she slept in her own bed in May 2019. It alleges he was in uniform and in a marked Oxford Police Department vehicle, making witnesses believe he was there on official business. According to officials, Kinne and Clayton had been involved in a personal relationship prior to her death.

Moore also stated that OPD is liable for hiring Kinne after his alleged involvement in the death of Kinne’s first wife when working at the Olive Branch Police Department. Moore did not give any specifics when pressed further by members of the media during a press conference at the Lafayette County Courthouse after filing the lawsuit, but added those answers would be revealed during his investigation and the trial process.

Under the causes of action, the complaint said Kinne violated Clayton’s Fourth and 14th Amendment rights “to be free from excessive force” and to be free from “city law enforcement evincing reckless disregard.” The complaint additionally blames the department for the negligent training, supervision and retention of Kinne.