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Cop’s Murder Trial Comes First, Judge Says

SAN ANTONIO (CN) - A Texas sheriff's deputy who killed an unarmed driver after a fender bender will face a May trial for murder before a pending excessive force lawsuit against him proceeds in Federal Court.

Anthony Thomas, 40, a former Bexar County deputy sheriff, is charged with first-degree murder for the August 2013 shooting death of Mathew Charles Jackson.

Jackson, 29, died in his driver's seat when Thomas fired eight shots at him from his own car after a minor traffic accident, according to his family's civil rights complaint.

Jackson's family, including his widow and young child, sued Thomas, Bexar County and Sheriff Susan Pamerleau in 2015, claiming excessive force, failure to train and supervisory liability.

The family says Thomas was driving his own car, but wearing his sheriff's uniform and carrying his service weapon when the two men pulled onto the shoulder of a San Antonio road.

Jackson's passenger-side mirror had just struck the officer's vehicle, according to court records.

"As plaintiff Jackson approached defendant Thomas' vehicle, defendant Thomas discharged his weapon approximately eight times, striking and killing plaintiff Jackson," the complaint states. "Mr. Jackson returned to his car and died in the driver's seat."

Thomas is free on $50,000 bond awaiting trial in state court.

U.S. Senior District Judge David Ezra on Feb. 1 ordered that the civil case be postponed until the criminal trial is over.

Thomas, a 16-year veteran of the Bexar County Sheriff's Office, claimed in his motion to stay that the answers the Jackson family sought in interrogatories would violate his right against self-incrimination.

"Plaintiffs' interrogatories seek detailed information regarding the incident for which Deputy Thomas will stand trial in a criminal proceeding in May, 2016," Judge Ezra wrote. "These interrogatories clearly violate Deputy Thomas' Fifth Amendment privilege; further, Deputy Thomas cannot present a meaningful defense to the charges in the instant civil case without addressing this information."

Delaying the civil proceedings will not result in any significant prejudice against the Jackson family or unnecessary delays to the civil case, Ezra found.

The judge dismissed Sheriff Pamerleau from the lawsuit, finding the Jackson family unable to state a claim meriting relief in the face of the sheriff's qualified immunity defense.

"Plaintiffs here have not alleged sufficient facts to show a 'pattern of similar incidents' such that Sheriff Pamerleau was aware of Deputy Thomas' dangerous propensities, yet remained deliberately indifferent to this danger," the ruling states.

Though the Jackson family alleged four incidents showing the officer's history of misconduct, they could not met their burden of proving that Pamerleau demonstrated "deliberate indifference to the possibility that Deputy Thomas 'might use excessive force' under any circumstances, particularly not in the situation here."

Bexar County did not seek dismissal from the lawsuit.

James Keith, spokesman for the Bexar County Sheriff's Office, has declined to comment on pending litigation.

The sheriff's office fired Thomas after his February 2014 felony indictment.

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