A federal jury ruled in favor of a Mayes County deputy Thursday in a federal lawsuit brought by the widow of a man who was shot to death at his rural Mayes County home by the deputy on New Year’s Day 2014.
The seven jurors reached a verdict in favor of Mayes County Deputy Kyle Wilson after less than two hours of deliberation in the lawsuit filed in 2015 by Janelle Bridges, widow of 33-year-old Shane Bridges. The lawsuit claimed Wilson violated Shane Bridges’ Fourth Amendment rights when Wilson fatally shot Bridges in the early morning hours of Jan. 1, 2014.
Attorneys representing Bridges’ widow, Janelle Bridges, stated that Bridges was inside his house with the door closed when Wilson opened fire from outside, within seconds of pulling up outside the house at 1:25 a.m. Shane Bridges, attorneys contend, had opened the door and slammed it shut again right before Wilson opened fire.
Wilson testified on Tuesday and Wednesday that he personally knew Bridges and considered him a friend. Bridges, Wilson said, exited his house seconds after Wilson arrived on scene and got out of his car, fired one shot away from Wilson from a .357 revolver, but then turned and fired the gun at Wilson when he called Bridges’ name. Wilson said he then fired his gun at Bridges, who was standing on the porch at the time, hitting him twice and fatally wounding him.
Each side made its closing statement on Thursday morning, but prior to the closing statements, one of the eight jurors was dismissed, after Bridges’ elderly father, Jerry Bridges, approached the juror on the first floor of the courthouse and asked if he, like Bridges, was American Indian.
The juror told U.S. District Judge Greg Frizzell that he responded to Jerry Bridges that he was a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and Bridges then told him that Shane Bridges was his son.
“I said ‘I’m sorry for your loss,’” the juror said he told Jerry Bridges.
Janelle Bridges’ attorney, Thomas Mortensen, said he was concerned the incident could be viewed as an attempt by a family member to bond or curry favor with a juror, and Judge Frizzell, over the objections of Wilson’s attorneys, agreed and dismissed the juror and barred Jerry Bridges from entering the courthouse until the jury returned its verdict.
The civil case against Wilson has been pending for more than four years, and Wilson’s attorneys attempted to appeal one ruling that prevented the case from being dismissed on the basis of qualified immunity all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, though the high court declined to hear the case. Wilson was cleared by the district attorney of wrongdoing in the shooting.
According to Janelle Bridges’ legal team, on the night of the shooting, the family had gone outside and shot their guns in the yard of their rural home at midnight to celebrate the new year. Bridges said she fired one round from her .357 revolver, while her husband fired two during the festivities.
Shortly after midnight, Janelle Bridges’ sister called and asked Shane Bridges, who had been drinking, to bring her 3-year-old daughter, who the Bridges had custody of, to her house, but Bridges refused. Janelle Bridges’ sister then called 911 and told dispatchers that Shane Bridges was intoxicated, had threatened her daughter and had threatened suicide. Around that time, the sister also had a telephone conversation with another Mayes County deputy who showed up a few minutes after the shooting, Brett Mull.
Wilson testified that he knew Shane Bridges personally, told Mull that he would handle the call, though Mull headed there as well after finishing a separate call he was on. Wilson, who spoke with Mull by cell phone about the call while en route, arrived at the residence at 1:25 a.m.
Accounts differ about what happened next. Janelle Bridges said she heard and saw the headlights from Wilson’s vehicle as he pulled up the driveway, and that she did not hear Shane Bridges retrieve the .357 revolver from the floor by a loveseat where he had left it earlier. After hearing Shane open and then close the door, Janelle Bridges said she heard a series of rapid gunshots from outside, ran into the living room and found her husband dying on the floor.
Wilson, on the other hand, said after he pulled up to the house, Shane Bridges walked out on to the porch, and fired a shot to the west. Wilson said he shouted Shane’s name, but Shane turned toward him and began to fire the revolver at him what he thought was three times, Wilson said. Wilson said he drew his service weapon and opened fire.
During his closing arguments, Mortensen hammered on ballistic evidence at the crime scene. Shell casings near Wilson’s patrol car show Wilson fired 13 shots. At least one of Wilson’s shots hit a sports utility vehicle parked between his cruiser and the house. A second shot hit the SUV’s roof rack and radio antenna, though Wilson says it was likely a shot from Bridges that caused the damage, while Mortenson pointed out the piece of broken off antenna was found on the porch.
On Monday, Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agent Brad Green said there were 10 holes believed to be bullet holes in and around the front door of the house. Eight of those bullets that punched through to the inside of the house, he said, but only six could be accounted for, either by bullet holes in the far wall or the bullets themselves being found.
Bridges was hit by two bullets, neither of which exited his body.
“If those bullets had exited Shane Bridges, it would be nearly impossible to figure this case out and we would have to rely on the credibility of people,” Mortensen told the jury during his closing argument. “You must realize one fact and one fact only — the two (bullets) that entered Shane Bridges passed through that door or wall.”
However, Wilson’s attorney Stephen Geries during his closing arguments also asked jurors to think about the two bullets that entered Bridges’ body.
On Wednesday, Geries called former Tulsa Police Department detective Jim Clark to the stand as an expert witness. In addition to saying the shooting was proper given Wilson’s description of what happened, Clark, who was listed as an expert witness, said the location of the wounds show that Bridges had his right arm extended and pointed toward the location the bullets came from when they struck him.
The medical examiner’s report shows that one bullet entered Bridges just below the elbow of his right arm and traveled up his arm to his tricep, while the second bullet entered his body through the right armpit and came to rest in his left shoulder.
On Tuesday, Wilson had testified that, after firing a shot away from him, Bridges had turned toward him in a “bladed” stance and fired shots at him with the .357 revolver before Wilson returned fire.
“They’re accusing Deputy Wilson of murder — that he shows up and starts spraying bullets into this house when he knows at least one small child is present?” Geries said. “That’s ridiculous, counsel,” he said, referring to Mortensen.
Geries also attacked the plaintiff’s contention that authorities had staged the scene shortly after the shooting, calling the idea “ridiculous.”
Geries also pointed out the plaintiffs called no expert witnesses.
Janelle Bridges testified Tuesday that when she returned to her house a couple of days after the shooting, she found that furniture had been moved, empty and crushed beer cans that had been in the trash were scattered about the house and on furniture, liquor bottles that had been stored in the refrigerator were left on the counter, and dirty dishes and food were left strewn around. Mortenson also provided photos of the family in their house taken by Janelle Bridges a few hours before the shooting that showed it in much different condition.
“To accuse deputies or the OSBI or the other officers of making that mess — what does that prove?” Geries asked the jury. “It’s meaningless.”
Mortenson told the jury that the case was a “test” of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, and said the defense was “stirring up as much mud as possible” to distract from the evidence showing Bridges was inside the house when shot.
“Eight bullets entered that house,” Mortensen said. “Six we know about. Two either disappeared from the face of the planet or they hit Shane Bridges. It’s that simple.”
Geries said Wilson was only reacting to the situation that Bridges put him in, and that he is a hero for his commitment to law enforcement.
“Kyle Wilson is a hero. Not because this incident. In this incident, he protected himself,” Geries told the jury, adding that Wilson was forced to do so by Bridges’ actions. “What makes him a hero is putting on that uniform every day.”