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City of Fairfield pays $500K to settle excessive force lawsuit from 2014 police shooting

Posted at 5:00 AM, Feb 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-07 09:03:00-05

CINCINNATI — Twenty-three-year-old Caleb Surface was suicidal, possibly intoxicated and out of control, his father told police in a 911 call Jan. 18, 2014. They needed to get him out of the house.

Hours later, Surface was dead. Fairfield Police Officer Scott Conklin shot him, claiming later in court documents that Surface had threatened his life.

Surface's parents, Jeffrey Surface and Laura Pavlech, alleged in a 2015 lawsuit that Conklin, then Fairfield Police Chief Michael Dickey, a third officer and the city of Fairfield were all guilty of excessive force and negligence leading to their son's wrongful death.

The city of Fairfield agreed in late December to pay $500,000 to settle the case.

"The city’s insurer made the decision to settle the remaining claim against the former officer and no city funds were used towards the settlement. The city accepts that decision resolving this matter of disputed liability," according to a statement from the city of Fairfield.

The case had been moving toward a jury trial in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, but both sides agreed to the $500,000 settlement and attorneys filed a notice dismissing the case on Feb. 1.

The parents had originally sued the city of Fairfield, Dickey and the third officer, but U.S. District Judge Tim Black dismissed all claims except for the ones against Conklin.

What happened on the snowy night of the shooting in a subdivision cul-de-sac was in dispute.

According to a 2017 order: “Officer Conklin asserts that prior to discharging his police firearm, Caleb twice stated that he had a gun … ‘I have a gun. Leave me alone.’ Officer Conklin further asserts that after he directed Caleb to keep his hands visible, Caleb responded by stating, ‘Are you not listening to me? I have a gun. I will kill you.'"

However, three neighbors who witnessed the shooting did not hear Caleb make any statements to police before he was shot, according to court documents.

“Officer Conklin followed Caleb until the two were some distance greater than 50 yards apart. At that time, Officer Conklin said, ‘Caleb, stop.’ Caleb then turned around, at which time Officer Conklin immediately fired his gun twice, killing Caleb,” one neighbor said in her affidavit.

Conklin shot Surface through the left side of his neck, severing his spinal cord and killing him, according to the lawsuit.

He died at the scene.

Surface did not have a gun — only a cell phone.