IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Family of Black woman killed as Georgia deputies served warrant files lawsuit

Latoya James was killed May 4, 2021, as Camden County sheriff’s deputies were serving a narcotics search warrant at her cousin’s home.
Get more newsLiveonNBC News Now

The family of a Black Georgia woman who they say was fatally shot by deputies serving a narcotics search warrant at her cousin's home filed a federal civil rights lawsuit this week.

Latoya James was killed May 4, 2021, at a home in Woodbine, about 98 miles southwest of Savannah. She was visiting Varshan Brown, her cousin, when Camden County sheriff’s deputies "forcibly entered" the home around 5:10 a.m. to serve a warrant, according to the suit, filed Sunday in U.S. District Court for Southern Georgia.

Latoya James.
Latoya James.Courtesy of Betty James via AP

James, the mother of a fourth grade girl, was shot in the back and a shoulder and died at the home, the lawsuit says. The county coroner's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

James' family and their attorneys allege in the lawsuit that deputies gave James, 37, and her cousin "2.5 seconds to answer or come to the door before they breached the door and killed her."

Attorney Harry Daniels said at a news conference Monday: "2.5 seconds. One. Two. They kicked down the door. That's not enough time.

"There was nobody trying to flee or run out the back door or trying to destroy evidence," Daniels said, adding that deputies did not give James and Brown the "dignity to ask 'Who’s there? Who is it?' before they knocked down the door."

The suit, which names Camden County Sheriff Jim Proctor and deputies Downy Casey and Michael Blaquiere as defendants, seeks $25 million.

The lawsuit says that law enforcement officers did knock on the door and announce themselves before they entered but that they did not activate their sirens or police lights.

"Immediately upon entering the residence, defendants Casey and Blaquiere encountered an unarmed Latoya James and her cousin, Varshan Brown. Gunfire was exchanged between defendants Casey and Blaquiere and Varshan Brown," according to the suit. "Defendants Casey and Blaquiere discharged their weapons killing Ms. James and injuring Varshan Brown inside the residence."

Daniels said that neither James nor Brown was aware that it was law enforcement at the door and that Brown fired because he was trying to protect his cousin. The attorney compared the case to that of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was shot and killed in 2020 by Louisville, Kentucky, officers during a raid at her home.

Proctor and the deputies could not be reached at phone numbers listed for them. The sheriff's office said it has "no comment on pending litigation."

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said in a statement in May 2021 that deputies arrived at the home just before 5 a.m. to execute a drug-related search warrant. The agency, which investigated the shooting, said the deputies "knocked and announced themselves before making entry into the residence."

The district attorney's office said that after deputies entered the home, "a use of force incident occurred" involving Brown and the deputies.

"During the incident, Brown and another occupant of the residence, Latoya James, received gunshot wounds, and James was pronounced dead at the scene," District Attorney Keith Higgins said in a statement in April.

Higgins said in the same statement that the two deputies would not be charged.

"While any loss of life is always tragic, the officers’ use of force in this instance was justified to protect their lives," he said.

A Camden County grand jury indicted Brown, 47, in April on charges of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault on a public safety officer, possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute, commission of a crime by a convicted felon, and possession of a firearm.

The district attorney's office said the murder charge alleges that he caused James' death "while in the commission of an aggravated assault." The aggravated assault charges allege that he shot at Casey and in the direction of Blaquiere, according to the district attorney's office.

Brown remains in the Camden County Jail. Attorney information was not available.