Lawyer for Cleveland tells appeals court that cop who fatally shot man in 2015 should be fired

CLEVELAND, Ohio — A city attorney argued in an appeals court on Tuesday that a police officer who fatally shot an unarmed burglar years ago was rightfully fired.

City attorneys and officer Alan Buford are arguing in Ohio’s 8th Circuit Court of Appeals over whether an umpire erroneously gave Buford his job back after veteran officer fatally shot Brandon Jones in 2015.

Buford, who did not attend the hearing, has not yet returned to duty as the appeals process has dragged on for years. If the panel rules in his favor, he will regain his job and get his salary back unless he successfully appeals to the Ohio Supreme Court.

The appeal hearing is the latest in a long line of hearings and investigations into the March 19, 2015 shooting. Buford shot and killed Jones as he was exiting a corner Glenville store he had broken into.

Buford was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter in 2017. The city paid Jones’ family $910,000 to settle a wrongful death lawsuit related to the shooting.

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John O’Donnell, who first considered the city’s appeal, ruled in favor of Buford in November, upholding the decision of arbitrator Daniel Zeiser and reasoning Tuesday before the Mary Eileen Kilbane, Mary Circuit Court of Appeals judges Boyle and Lisa Forbes.

Overturning an arbitrator’s decision is a high legal obstacle in Ohio. The city must prove that Zeiser made a mistake in his decision for fraud, corruption, wrongdoing or exceeding his authority.

George Crisci, the attorney assigned to represent the city, argued that Zeiser exceeded his authority by giving too much weight to Buford’s testimony and ignoring scientific evidence.

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Crisci argued that the Cuyahoga County coroner determined that the bullet that killed Jones was fired from a downward trajectory, meaning Jones, who was significantly taller than Buford, must have been crouched and therefore posed no threat .

He also argued that Buford, who was hired as a Cleveland officer in 1996, lied during the arbitration hearing.

“To believe Buford’s story, the trajectory of his shot would have to have defied the laws of physics; indeed it would have to be a ‘magic bullet’,” Crisci wrote in a briefing before the hearing.

Buford’s attorney, Henry Hilow, argued that even when crouched, Jones still posed a threat. At one point, Hilow crouched and then dramatically exploded upward to mimic what he perceived as a threatening move from Jones toward Buford.

“They have done good police practice,” Hilow said, referring to Buford and his partner at the scene, Gregory King.

Hilow also said that Jones’ posture is no longer relevant. He argued that the city was refusing to honor its contract with the police union and that its disagreement with Zeiser’s price was no reason to vacate it.

Boyle seemed to agree, warning Crisci, “You agree, our standard of verification is very limited.”