Lawyers on Thursday disclosed the amount of a settlement agreement approved by a judge earlier this month in a lawsuit filed against the West Virginia State Police by the parents of a Mercer County teenager shot to death by a trooper in 2014.
The State Police agreed to pay $700,000 to settle the lawsuit filed in 2015 by Michele and Robert Hill Jr. over the death of their son, Timothy.
Charleston lawyers Robert Berthold, who represents the Hills, and Gary Pullin, for the State Police, provided the amount to the Gazette-Mail on Thursday.
Kanawha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey filed an order approving the settlement earlier this month, but her order didn't include the agreed-upon amount. In fact, the order states that the terms of the settlement are confidential. However, settlement agreements involving government agencies in West Virginia are public record, the state Supreme Court ruled in 1986, in response to a lawsuit filed by The Charleston Gazette against a former Kanawha County sheriff.
In their lawsuit, the Hills also named Trooper B.D. Gillespie, individually, as a defendant. Gillespie shot and killed Timothy Hill, 18, in the early hours of June 13, 2014, during a struggle at the foot of Hill's driveway in Kegley, an unincorporated community near Princeton.
Hill was unarmed, but Gillespie said the teen grabbed for his service weapon. Hill was shot twice, once in the head and once in the chest.
Berthold and Pullin said Thursday that the amount of the agreement wasn't omitted in Bailey's order as a way to try to keep it secret. Rather, the omission, they said, can be attributed to the fact that none of the parties wanted the case to be about money.
“It was a very emotional time for the family,” Berthold said. “Nobody was trying to shield anything from anybody.”
Pullin added that the circumstances surrounding the case are tragic.
“State Police tried to work with the family,” he said. “Neither side voluntarily disclosed [the amount of the settlement] because, for the State Police and the family, the case wasn't a money issue.”
Pullin also noted that the settlement didn't include any admission of wrongdoing by the State Police or Gillespie.
Gillespie “was cleared through an internal investigation and also cleared by a Mercer County grand jury,” Pullin said.
The grand jury, in 2014, chose not to indict Gillespie after the investigation led by a fellow trooper and then-Mercer Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ash.
When reached last week, Michele Hill cited a confidentiality agreement she signed as part of the settlement. Without disclosing an amount, she told a reporter that she was satisfied with the settlement but noted that the lawsuit was never filed for money.
In the lawsuit the Hills alleged that Gillespie acted maliciously and in reckless disregard of their son's rights. The lawsuit, which also was filed on behalf of the Hills by lawyers Mike Olivio and Stephanie Mullett, also alleged that the State Police does not properly investigate killings involving its officers.
Hill lived on the same street as Gillespie and had at least one previous run-in, concerning Hill riding a dirt bike in the street. About four months before her son was killed, Michelle Hill told a Mercer sheriff's deputy that Gillespie was harassing her son. The Hills said Gillespie watched their son with binoculars and recorded him with a video camera.
The 1 a.m. confrontation that led to Hill's shooting concerned some wet underwear two others had thrown on Gillespie's police cruiser as a prank after they went swimming.
Angela Gillespie woke her husband at about 11:30 p.m. and told him she had discovered the underwear on his cruiser and had seen a group of boys in their driveway. She then got in her vehicle and went searching for the boys.
After she returned, Gillespie, who had worked a 14-hour shift earlier that day, put on his uniform and called to place himself on duty. He searched for about two hours before finding three teenagers walking in the street.
After questioning the three, who all denied throwing the underwear, the trooper dismissed the two Hill was with to question Hill alone. It was during that questioning that Gillespie decided to arrest Hill.
When Gillespie grabbed Hill's arm, Hill jerked away, cursed at him and went to “jolt off,” according to a trooper's report on the investigation into the shooting. Gillespie said he then sprayed Hill in the face with pepper spray from a distance of about 6 inches, but it didn't have any effect on Hill.
Clark Crews, a neighbor who was sitting on his porch, ran over and asked Gillespie if he needed help. Crews said he immediately felt the effects of the pepper spray. Crews pulled at Hill's arm and all three men fell down a hill into a drainage ditch. It's then, Gillespie contends, that Hill began grabbing at his holster.
Gillespie still lives on the same street as the Hills, Michele Hill said last week. The Hills see him drive past their house almost every day.
The couple has no plans to move, she said.
After Timothy Hill's death, neighbors constructed a flower garden and playground at the site of the incident. Looking at that each day provides some comfort for Michele Hill.
“It reminds me how many people loved Timmy,” she said.
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