Police Abuse

A Police Officer Killed a Man for Firing 'Celebratory' Shots Into the Air. Now, He Faces a Federal Lawsuit.

"Defendant Huber intentionally fired his service weapon at Decedent and killed him with gunfire while Decedent posed no threat of death or serious bodily harm to Defendant Huber," the lawsuit states.


Around midnight on New Year's Day 2022, an Ohio man was shot and killed by a police officer for firing "celebratory" shots into the air. Now, his widow has filed a federal lawsuit against the officer and local police department, claiming that police violated her husband's constitutional rights by using unnecessary, excessive force.

"For decades, United States Supreme Court has interpreted the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution to prohibit a police officer's use of excessive force during the arrest of a citizen," the lawsuit states, adding that police deprived "Plaintiff of his well-established right to be free from excessive force, per the authority cited herein."

Near midnight on December 31, 2021, 46-year-old James Williams fired shots into the air from the porch of his Canton, Ohio, home. According to the lawsuit, this is a common occurrence on New Year's Eve within the town. In fact, the complaint notes that earlier in the evening, before Williams fired any shots, Canton police received a radio broadcast alerting them of another man that was firing shots into the air as "celebratory fire for New Years."

When Williams "join[ed] in that activity," a nearby police officer—Robert Huber—heard gunfire and drove to the front of William's home, which had a 6-foot fence surrounding the porch. According to the lawsuit, Huber then walked up the steps of the porch and looked through a window, where he saw Williams walking through the house while holding a rifle. The complaint states that Huber then backed off the porch and onto the street, where he activated his body camera and radioed for backup.

According to the lawsuit, Huber heard gunfire shortly after and approached the fence around the porch with his gun drawn. Without any verbal warning to Williams, Huber fired at the fence, striking Williams in the chest. The complaint states that Huber then shouted, "Shots fired, shots fired," and, "Police! Get down now! Police! Get down now!"

The complaint states that Williams then staggered into his living room, in view of his children, where he died shortly thereafter. The suit states that Huber did not attempt to provide medical care to Williams at any point.

"Defendant Huber intentionally fired his service weapon at Decedent and killed him with gunfire while Decedent posed no threat of death or serious bodily harm to Defendant Huber," the lawsuit states. "Huber fired at Decedent through a wooden fence which blocked Defendant Huber's view of the scene in front of him, putting at risk the lives of Decedent, Plaintiff, and their children."

Huber has not been disciplined or charged in connection with the shooting. Last September, a grand jury declined to charge Huber, sparking protests in Canton. "While the Stark County Prosecutor has failed in obtaining justice for James, we will not stop until we do," read a statement from the family's legal team.

While Huber seems unlikely to face criminal charges, this latest lawsuit is the final legal avenue for William's family to hold police accountable for his death. (A previous lawsuit was dismissed for Williams' widow's failure to obtain legal counsel.) However, it's unclear whether they will succeed in obtaining a settlement, as wide-ranging qualified immunity protections guard police from civil lawsuits. For now, accountability for Huber, or the police department that failed to discipline him, seems far-off.

"I really feel that there was no justice for James Williams and his family," said Canton City Councilwoman Chris Smith after the grand jury's decision. "There was no justice. I am disappointed in this system."