Guilford County Sheriff’s Deputy Thomas Gordy has filed a lawsuit against Calvert Stewart, the father of a young man he killed last May.
William Hill, a Greensboro lawyer working for Gordy and the N.C. Police Benevolence Association Inc., said in an October High Point Enterprise article that the suit seeks more than $10,000 in damages for defamation of character and emotional distress.
But someone else has another version of the definition of “distress.”
“Emotional distress is going to your son’s closet smelling his dirty clothes trying to remember him,” said Jesse Barber, the mother of the deceased, Gilbert Barber, who was 22 when he died. These days, Jesse Barber carries around an old sock in a plastic freezer bag that belonged to her son.
According to Stewart, the suit is the result of a rally in which he called Gordy a “murderer” in protest of investigation of his son’s death. The family has also filed a lawsuit against the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department and Deputy Thomas Gordy, claiming that a “bad faith investigation” was conducted, and that Barber’s death resulted from “a wrongful act, neglect or default.”
“They think they can scare us away with this counter suit, but it’s not going to work,” said Stewart. “They will think twice next time a situation like this occurs.”
Gilbert Barber had a one-car accident on Kivet Drive in High Point while traveling approximately 68 mph on May 18, 2001. According to police investigations, Barber, a black man, then left his car, broke into a church, and returned to the main road unclothed and frantic.
Once Gordy arrived, Barber was pepper sprayed and shot three times after he allegedly approached Gordy in a “threatening” manner, according to Stewart’s attorney, Alan McSurely, an NCCU School of Law graduate. Gordy said in his deposition that the pepper spray did not affect Barber.
“I don’t understand how pepper spray did not affect someone with bruises and cuts the size of Gil’s,” said McSurely.
Barber’s family believes that Barber was pulled inside the church and beaten.
According to McSurely, Barber ended up in Oak Grove Church, where pools of blood and five of Barber’s teeth were found, several of which were still attached to gum tissue.
Church furniture was found soaked with blood, and prints from Barber’s teeth were found in a wooden collection plate, said McSurely. Investigators say that Barber broke into the church himself.
McSurely said that during the police investigation, a forensic dental expert was consulted, and he said that the possibility of Barber pushing out his own teeth with a wooden offering plate was ludicrous.
According to Barber’s mother, Guilford County Sheriff B.J. Barnes made statements at a press conference following the shooting that implied that her son was on PCP and mentally disturbed.
However, according to McSurely, Barber had no previous history of mental illness and the autopsy showed no evidence of any PCP.
Tim Hopkins, chairman of the Greensboro chapter of the October 22nd Coalition, an anti-police brutality organization, attended the press conference and was enraged by Barnes’ comments.
“A picture was painted at that press conference of a mentally disturbed thug,” said Hopkins. “The sheriff even said that Gil was acting like a ‘raging bull.’”
At the press conference, Hopkins argued with Barnes, saying that the Barber case was “another black man down, another black man dead.”
According to Hopkins, Barnes responded: “If you say one more thing, I’ll have you arrested.”
The Campus Echo attempted to contact Barnes and Gordy, who has not been suspended. The Echo’s questions about criminal investigation and evidence procedures were directed to the General Assembly Web site, at www.ncga.state.nc.us.
According to the North Carolina General Statues outlined there, “the contents of ‘911’ telephone calls received” shall be considered “public records.”
According to the family, they did not receive further evidence, such as an autopsy or “911” tapes, until more than three months after the shooting.
“We sued them because they wouldn’t give us anything,” said McSurely.
According to an August High Point Enterprise article, Barnes denied claims by the family that they had made many attempts to contact him.
“This has stopped being about a son. It’s about money,” he said in the article. “No one has called my office.”
Hopkins also expressed disgust that the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department conducted the investigation rather than the State Bureau of Investigation.
“This is like the fox investigating the hen house,” said Hopkins.
Gordy’s statement was taken five days after the accident at his home and not recorded, according to Gordy during his deposition.
During the deposition, Gordy also explained his account of what happened that night. He said that when the pepper spray did not affect Barber, he backed up and removed his gun from his holster.
According to Gordy, he then pointed his Glock .45 caliber pistol at Barber and ordered him to step back. Then according to Gordy, Barber struggled for the gun, causing Gordy to shoot himself in the leg.
However, according to statements from Glenn Johnson, an eyewitness, Gordy stumbled backwards and he then heard what he “thought” were three shots, two of which grazed Barber’s abdomen.
After Gordy was shot, according to his deposition, he sat in an upright position on the ground and asked Barber to back away. Then, Gordy said, he realized that his gun was jammed.
Gordy unloaded the gun, removed the shell, reloaded, and called in on his radio.
When asked what Barber was doing during this time, Gordy says that he began to circle him as he sat on the ground.
After waiting for him to reload, Barber charged again and he shot him in the chest, Gordy said.
According to Johnson, Barber then stumbled back and fell.
One of several witnesses, Jennifer Ryan Hall, who works at the Sheriff’s Department, transcribed the statements, according to McSurely.
The family of the victim is hosting a rally to protest the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department investigation of the death of Gilbert Barber on May 17, the day before the anniversary of his death, in downtown Greensboro at the Governmental Plaza on Green Street at 3:30 p.m.