The sister of a bouncer who died in 2013 is suing the Town of Smithfield and the man accused of striking her brother.
Around 2 a.m. on Feb. 2, 2013, Luther Burton Jr. was knocked unconscious while intervening in a group fight that broke out in the parking lot of the Hookah House on Venture Drive. News outlets reported the fight might have involved up to 60 people. Three days later, Burton died at age 38 at WakeMed in Raleigh.
That night, the Smithfield Police Department charged Trenton Kyle Hensley, then 19, with assault inflicting serious bodily injury. The arrest report noted that Burton suffered “extensive brain injury resulting in (him) being on a ventilator.” Hensley’s next scheduled criminal court date is March 26.
In a civil complaint filed Feb. 18, Burton’s estate seeks damages from Hensley and from the Town of Smithfield, which the complaint accuses of negligence and deprivation of civil rights. Burton’s sister, Lynn Arrington, filed the complaint as administrator of his estate. Her attorney, Gordon Woodruff of Smithfield, said the next move belongs to the town.
“We’re very early in the process,” Woodruff said. “We’ve not received a response from the town yet.”
The complaint says the Hookah House asked Hensley to leave before midnight after he got drunk and became loud and belligerent. When Hensey returned to the parking lot in the early morning hours, Burton’s employer told him to ask Hensley to leave the premises, according to the complaint.
At that point, the complaint claims, Hensley knocked Burton out with an unprovoked blow around the right eye that caused additional injury when his head hit the pavement.
“Mr. Burton received serious, painful and permanent bodily injuries causing medical and other expenses and, ultimately death,” according to the complaint.
Next, the suit says, a 911 call dispatched Emergency Medical Services and Smithfield police to the scene, with police officers arriving first. In the critical moments before EMS arrived, the complaint claims, police showed negligence by failing to recognize that Burton was in medical distress and needed immediate help.
“The officers knew or should have known that Mr. Burton was vulnerable, helpless and totally unable to care for himself,” according to the complaint. “Mr. Burton lay motionless on the pavement in the presence of the officers for several critical minutes during which he stopped breathing and went into cardiac arrest.”
The complaint says the Town of Smithfield is negligent because it failed to train its police officers adequately. The complaint goes on to claim that the lack of training amounts to a deprivation of Burton’s civil rights under the U.S. Constitution.
In addition to the compensatory and special damages for those claims, the complaint seeks punitive damages of more than $25,000 each from Hensley and Smithfield.
Hensley spent 43 days in the Johnston County jail before posting bond, according to public records. He has not received notice of the complaint, according to the file, because he has moved without leaving a forwarding address.
The N.C. Crime Victims Compensation program, created in the 1980s, paid Burton’s family the maximum allowed under law. According to public record, Burton’s father received $5,000 for funeral expenses, and Arrington received $30,000 to help cover her brother’s medical bills. If convicted in criminal, Hensley will have to reimburse the victim’s fund.
In a news release five days after Arrington filed her complaint, the Smithfield Police Department asserted that officers followed established procedures and proper medical protocols, and the Town of Smithfield said it planned to “vigorously defend” itself in court.
Because of the outstanding criminal charges against Hensley, the police department mostly limited its comments to a time line of events from the night in question. The police did, however, offer their condolences.
“The events that took Luther Burton’s life were tragic and our prayers continue to go out for him and his family,” the news release stated.
Police time line of Feb. 3
In response to a civil complaint, the Smithfield Police Department issued a news release laying out its version of events from the night Luther Burton Jr. suffered fatal injuries.
2:08 a.m.: Smithfield police dispatched to a large group fight at the Hookah House.
2:09 a.m.: Emergency Medical Services dispatched.
2:10 a.m.: Police arrive at the Hookah House.
2:16 a.m.: EMS arrives after police have secured the scene.
Source: Smithfield Police Department