Settlement of Estate of Knibbs v Momphard Police Wrongful Use of Deadly Force Lawsuit

May 24, 2023

After five years of litigation the Macon County Sheriff’s Department and Deputy Anthony Momphard have agreed to settle the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the Estate of Michael “Scott” Knibbs for $900,000.00. Scott was killed by Macon County Deputy Anthony Momphard on April 30, 2018, just after midnight. Deputy Momphard fired six shots at Scott through the front porch window. Two of the bullets struck Scott inside the living room of his own home. He took a few steps and died on his dining room floor.

Deputy Momphard had been dispatched on a non-emergency basis to the neighborhood after a complaint was made by a neighbor about boards placed across a shared gravel driveway. The neighbors were having a party next door to the Knibbs residence. An hour before he was killed Mr. Knibbs had an encounter with a young man who mistakenly pulled into his driveway looking for the party. Scott told him to leave his property, and Scott placed several boards across the driveway as speed bumps to slow down the cars going past his house to the party.

Deputy Momphard arrived shortly before midnight and parked his car 200-300’ away from the Knibbs home when he encountered a board across the driveway. He failed to activate his blue light. Deputy Momphard was a rookie deputy and had finished his field training just 10 weeks earlier. The porch light and interior lights were all off inside the Knibbs home except for a small nightlight. Deputy Momphard spoke to the neighbor and believed this was a civil dispute regarding the boards. He then decided to talk with Mr. Knibbs. Deputy Momphard did not use his flashlight when he approached the Knibbs residence. Scott Knibbs and his wife, Missy, were already in bed. Their 13-year-old son, adult daughter, and her infant son were already asleep in the residence. When Scott heard voices outside his home and someone announce, “Sheriff’s Department” he told his wife that “anyone can say they are Sheriff’s Department” and picked up his shotgun he kept next to his bed. He racked a shell to load it and went towards the front door to investigate the voices and protect his family.

As he reached the porch steps Deputy Momphard heard the shotgun being racked inside the home and then shouted at least two times to “put it down” at the darkened home. He said when he heard the shotgun rack, he was afraid he was going to be shot through the closed front door. Instead of tactically retreating off of the porch to deescalate the situation, better identify himself as a law enforcement officer, and call for backup, Deputy Momphard went up on porch. He then went in front of the porch window, turned on his flashlight and shined it through the window. When he saw Scott holding a shotgun inside his own home, Deputy Momphard began shooting. He later claimed Scott was pointing his shotgun at him, but admitted that when turned on his flashlight Scott never moved or said anything before he was shot. The Estate disputed that Scott pointed his shotgun at Deputy Momphard.

Scott’s widow, Missy Knibbs, retained Mark Melrose and Adam Melrose of Melrose Law and Josh Nielsen of Nielsen Law to represent the family. They filed a federal lawsuit on April 16, 2019, for violation of Scott’s Fourth Amendment constitutional right to be free from excessive use of deadly police force, and claims under North Carolina State law for wrongful death. The case was originally dismissed on November 5, 2020, by Judge Max Cogburn who held that Deputy Momphard was entitled to qualified immunity. The Knibbs family appealed, and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Judge Cogburn and ordered a jury trial. The Sheriff’s Department appealed that decision to the United States Supreme Court, but the Court refused to hear the appeal.

The case went to trial on February 5, 2023. The Knibbs family presented evidence from a forensic pathologist who testified that based upon the location of the bullet wounds and fragments of glass in his skin that Scott was holding the shotgun in a safe position with the barrel pointed at the ceiling. They also offered evidence from a crime scene specialist and a police use of force expert. They contended that Deputy Momphard who was a rookie police officer had panicked when he heard the shotgun rack, and that he should have retreated off the porch when he felt threatened, used his radio to call for backup, and better identify himself as law enforcement. They offered evidence that Deputy Momphard was reckless by advancing onto the porch, going to the front window, and shining his flashlight inside the house. They also argued that the Deputy overreacted to a civil dispute when no crime had been committed and Scott had a constitutional right to possess a shotgun in his own home.

The jury was unable to reach a verdict and deadlocked 4-2 in favor of the Knibbs family. This resulted in a mistrial. The case was scheduled for retrial on June 5, 2023. The settlement was reached as the parties prepared for the retrial.

The Knibbs family is relieved that the Defendants finally agreed to settle this case, so the family did not have to relive this night again during a second trial. Scott was a hardworking family man who ran his own tree service business and was very active in his local church. He had two children with Missy and also raised another child with Missy. He was an active outdoorsman who loved to spend time with his family hunting and fishing. He enjoyed riding motorcycles and simply being outside with friends and family. He was a supporter of law enforcement and had graduated from Basic Law Enforcement Training years earlier when he considered law enforcement as a career. He participated on the security committee with his church.

Mr. Mark Melrose said “This case has been one of the most challenging, hard-fought cases of my career. Proving a case of excessive police force is often impossible due to the defense of qualified immunity. The Plaintiff has to present overwhelming evidence that the law enforcement officer violated a clearly established constitutional right. That was even more challenging in this case because the only two eyewitnesses to the shooting were Scott and Deputy Momphard. We then had to rely upon forensic evidence and witnesses who heard, but did not see, what happened. We were frustrated by the hung jury in February, and we were all set to present the case again in June when settlement discussions were successful. The Knibbs family has persevered though exhausting litigation as well as gossip in the community about what happened. The payment of this substantial sum of money to resolve this case should send a clear message that Scott’s death was preventable. When we give law enforcement the ability to carry weapons and use deadly force, we expect them to be well trained and use deadly force only when required as a last resort.”

Further press coverage of this settlement can be found at the Smoky Mountain News from Kyle Perrotti.

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