A $1 million award for the family of a man killed in 2008 in Cape Girardeau was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, seven years after Zachary Snyder, 23, of Dexter, Missouri, was killed by a Department of Corrections officer. The appellate court upheld the 2012 jury award for the children of Snyder, who was fatally shot at an apartment complex in 2008.
Corrections officer Steve R. Julian, a fugitive unit investigator, was called to an apartment complex on Themis Street in February 2008 in response to a report that Snyder, wanted for a parole violation and failure to appear, was at the complex. Reports from the night of the shooting show Julian went to parking lot on Themis Street, pulled his service pistol and approached Snyder. According to witnesses, Snyder initially was compliant, but turned and ran, at which point Julian admittedly shot him in the back.
Snyder died as a result of the gunshot wound, and Julian was ultimately charged with involuntary manslaughter.
Although Julian was found not guilty of the manslaughter charge in October 2008, Snyder’s estate later brought an action for civil rights violations, excessive force, and wrongful death. The appellate court found the evidence supported that Julian acted with reckless, intentional indifference in causing Snyder’s death. According to the attorneys for Snyder’s estate, Danny Moore and Steve Walsh,
“We were expecting the jury verdict to be upheld on appeal. This was a tragic case involving a kind, gentle young man who lost his life in a senseless shooting by a remorseless parole officer. There are four young children who are growing up without a father, but at least this verdict will give them the means to get through life and get a good education.”
Snyder’s estate brought the wrongful death suit on behalf of Snyder’s four children, who at the time ranged in age from four to nine.
Julian argued in a post-trial motion in 2012, through his representative, the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, that he was entitled to “official immunity” under Missouri law and that he was protected from liability by Missouri’s public-duty doctrine. Julian also urged the court to grant him a new trial because the damages award was excessive and unsupported by the evidence.
Snyder was paroled in 2007 after serving sentences for possession of a controlled substance and automobile theft. He absconded from supervision by probation and parole officials when Julian was assigned to apprehend Snyder. Julian reportedly drove to the address Snyder had been seen and positioned his car in a well-lit parking lot in front of the apartment building. According to the court opinion:
“Julian saw Snyder, got out of his car and informed Snyder that he was a parole officer with a warrant for his arrest. In response to Julian’s order, Snyder placed his hands on the back of Julian’s car. Julian approached Snyder, stood to Snyder’s left and placed his left hand on Snyder’s shoulder. At that point, Snyder reportedly turned to his right and began to run. After Snyder took two steps, Julian fired one shot at Snyder. The bullet entered Snyder’s right back and exited his left chest area, traveling at an upward angle through his right lung, killing him.”
Snyder was unarmed at the time he was shot.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri found that Julian was not entitled to official immunity because the evidence supported a finding of malice and bad faith, and the appellate court agreed.
Judges Steven M. Colloton, Roger L. Wollman, and Duane Benton concluded “a reasonable juror could have found that Julian shot Snyder when Snyder was running away from Julian, not after Snyder turned toward Julian in a threatening manner."
On appeal, Julian argued the award was improper because Snyder had spent little time with his children because he was in prison for most of their lives, and Snyder’s life had minimal future earning potential. It is clear the jury heard “substantial evidence” of non-economic damages arising from the loss of their father.
“In light of the evidence concerning Snyder’s relationship with his four children, and (his) youth and life expectancy, we cannot say that the damages award ($150,000 per child after fees and expenses) constituted a plain injustice or monstrous or shocking result,” Colloton wrote.