In 2015, the Washington Post looked at 59 instances where officers used what could be considered unnecessary force to kill a suspect. It was discovered that 52 of the cases resulted in wrongful death civil lawsuits, but settlements and awards were only approved in 32 of the suits.
A wrongful death lawsuit is a personal injury case that is subject to the individual laws of each state. In Brooklyn, an immediate family member can file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of their deceased relative. In July 2017, that precise scenario was played out when police behavior resulted in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a mentally ill deceased suspect.
A Mentally Ill Man Wrongfully Killed By Brooklyn Police
In July 2017, a call to Brooklyn police was made by the mother of a mentally ill man who was known to the local police officers. The call was made by the mother of the eventual victim, and she was scared of her son’s erratic behavior. This was not the first time a call had been made to Brooklyn police about this individual, and it is not a situation that the police were unfamiliar with.
Four officers responded to the call, but one of them was not properly trained to handle mentally ill persons and was unfamiliar with the history of this particular individual. When the police arrived, the man became enraged and grabbed a knife from the kitchen. When the individual charged one of the officers, the officer tried to taser him rather than shoot him because that officer was familiar with the situation. But when the improperly prepared officer saw the man sitting on a police officer’s chest with a knife in his hands, that officer put five rounds into the victim’s chest, killing him instantly.
Why The Family Filed A Lawsuit
Immediately after the incident, the family of the mentally ill man filed a notice to the city that a $20 million wrongful death lawsuit was pending. The process of filing the lawsuit followed all of the laws in Brooklyn regarding this type of personal injury situation. An immediate family member filed the suit, there was potentially negligent police behavior, and the immediate family member relied on the victim for her care. Despite the potentially cut-and-dry nature of the case, there are still questions that the civil court will have to answer.
At the moment of the shooting, the victim was openly attacking a police officer with a deadly object. In that instance, it is reasonable to think that another officer on the scene could use deadly force to protect their partner. The victim was visibly disturbed and not responding to commands or forms of non-deadly force. Once again, this normally opens up the situation to the proper use of deadly force to protect the officers on the scene.
The biggest problem police face i this case is that the entire Brooklyn police department in that part of the city knew the victim and his mental issues. If an officer who was inexperienced in dealing with this victim and not properly trained in handling mentally ill people was dispatched to respond, then that could open up the city to a wrongful death lawsuit.
Another issue the city faces is the erratic shooting of the officer in question. More than one bullet missed the victim and went through the walls of the victim’s apartment. This immediately creates an unnecessarily dangerous situation for the other residents in the apartment building, and it is a situation that officers should be trained to handle properly.
The Next Step
When suing in Brooklyn for a wrongful death case, it is customary to first file a notice of claim before filing the actual lawsuit. The city has the option to deny the notice of claim, which could stop the lawsuit from being filed. But it is still the right of the victim’s family to seek compensation in civil court for their losses. While the process of filing an official lawsuit is extremely complicated if the claim is denied, it is not impossible.
A wrongful death lawsuit is often the only recourse a family has in the face of improper police behavior. In Brooklyn, a family grieves the loss of a loved one who was gunned down by an inexperienced and improperly trained officer. Only time will tell whether or not the family gets its chance to have its day in court.