Mercer County mother sues City of Princeton after son dies in officer involved shooting

PRINCETON, WV (WVNS) — A Mercer County family has sued Princeton Police Department after an officer involved shooting in Mercer County.

An amended complaint was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in Beckley last month.

Barry Yearout died in April 2022 at Princeton Community Hospital after he was shot by officers, according to the lawsuit.

Under a Freedom of Information Act request, Princeton Municipal Police Department provided video collected during the incident by one of the officer’s body cameras.

On April 18, 2022, officers arrived at North 5th Street in Princeton in response to a neighbor’s complaint that 43-year-old Barry Yearout had driven an all-terrain vehicle and damaged her yard.

After speaking with the neighbor, the officers, who were identified in the lawsuit as Detective Sean Severt, Earl Leftwich, and Patrolman Jones, approached Yearout’s house.

Mercer County man dies after officer-involved shooting in Princeton

Yearout came to a window to speak with officers as they stood outside.

Officers told Yearout not to drive his ATV through the neighbor’s yard, and Yearout denied the allegation and ordered the officers to leave his property.

The officers said they could confiscate his ATV and then approached the house.

An unidentified woman tried to block the door, as shown in the video, but was removed by officers and threatened with arrest.

Yearout, who is not visible in the video, is heard ordering police to leave and warning them that he is making a call. The officer, identified as Severt, tells Yearout, who is not visible on camera, to “drop the bat” before firing shots.

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Princeton police officials said on April 18, 2022, that Yearout charged at the officer with an aluminum baseball bat and that the officer discharged his weapon.

The police video obtained by 59News does not show Yearout charging at the officer who fired the shots prior to shots being fired. According to the lawsuit, Severt was not wearing a body camera at the time Yearout was shot which is a violation of Princeton Police Department’s policy.

However, according to the lawsuit, Princeton Police Department cleared the officer of wrongdoing in Yearout’s shooting.

Attorneys for Yearout’s family alleged Severt destroyed his own camera footage. Princeton Police Department officials did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday, May 8, 2024.

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The lawsuit, filed by the law firm Stroebel and Stroebel, names the three officers and City of Princeton Police Chief T.A. Gray, along with the City of Princeton and the police department, as defendants.

Filed on behalf of Yearout’s estate by his mother, Rebecca Yearout of Mercer County, the lawsuit alleges the officers were angry with Yearout when they responded to the ATV complaint on April 16, 2022, because Yearout had allegedly made social media posts criticizing local law enforcement.

In 2014, in another case, Barry Yearout had sued West Virginia Regional Jails Authority following a raid of Southern Regional Jail by a State Special Response Team, which was searching for inmate contraband inside the jails.

During the raid, Barry Yearout was shot in the leg. Video of the shooting appears to show Barry Yearout lying stomach-down on the jail floor with his hands on his head when an an agent shoots his leg.

He is one of dozens of inmates across the state who sued WVRJA, alleging police brutality during the raid. He was serving time for a third-offense charge of driving under the influence when the jail was raided in 2014.

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