City of Lawrence denies excessive-force claims, states motorist’s conduct led to his being shot by police
photo by: Lawrence Police Department
The City of Lawrence has denied claims that its police department used excessive force against a motorist who was shot by police and instead claims that the motorist’s conduct led to the incident.
Akira S. Lewis was shot by police after a traffic stop turned violent and in September filed a lawsuit claiming that police used excessive force against him and that the city failed to properly train its officers. Lewis filed the lawsuit against the City of Lawrence, the Lawrence Police Department, the police chief and the two officers involved in the traffic stop: former officer Brindley Blood and Officer Ian McCann.
The lawsuit alleges that Blood, the officer who shot Lewis, used excessive force and that both Blood and McCann battered him and inflicted emotional distress through negligence. The police department conducts its own training academy for officers, and the lawsuit also alleges that the city, police department and Police Chief Gregory Burns Jr. failed to properly train and supervise officers.
The city’s response to the lawsuit, recently filed in the United States District Court of Kansas City, Kan., states that Lewis “unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventative or corrective opportunities provided by (the city) or to avoid harm otherwise.” The response also states that Lewis’ damages, if any, were “caused by his own conduct.”
The incident occurred on May 29, 2018, in the 100 block of West Sixth Street, at the north end of downtown, after McCann pulled Lewis over for a seat-belt violation as part of a seat-belt enforcement campaign. In police dashcam video, Lewis, who is black, contends he was racially profiled, refuses to provide McCann his license and registration and demands that a supervisor be called. McCann discusses the situation with Lewis, and when Lewis ultimately does not comply, McCann attempts to physically remove him from the car; Lewis subsequently strikes and body slams McCann. Blood then shoots Lewis within seconds after the physical altercation begins. Blood told investigators later that she meant to use her Taser, not her gun.
The city states in its response that it admits that Blood drew her firearm and discharged a round into Lewis’ back. The city denies the lawsuit’s claims that it failed to train Blood on proper use of force. Regarding the lawsuit’s claim that officers expressed concerns about Blood’s competency during training, the city states that it admits “some officers expressed concern over Blood’s performance of certain exercises” but that she passed training.
The claim of excessive force is made against Blood only, and the city’s response notes that a claim has not been made against the city in that regard but that if a response is required the city denies the allegations.
The federal case docket does not indicate an attorney for Blood, and no response to the lawsuit has been filed by her or on her behalf. When asked via email by the Journal-World if the Lawrence Police Officers Association, the local police union, will be providing an attorney to represent Blood, LPOA representative Bill Bradford said that Blood was no longer a member and that he would have no further comment.
The city has hired attorneys Jacob Bielenberg, Sean Sturdivan and Elizabeth Evers Guerra of the firm Sanders Warren Russell & Scheer LLP to represent it in the case, and the firm also represents McCann and Burns. Motions to dismiss claims against McCann and Burns were also recently filed.
A memorandum in support of Burns’ motion states in part that the claim does not specifically state actions taken by Burns that violated Lewis’ rights. A memorandum in support of McCann’s motion notes that the lawsuit does not allege that McCann used excessive force and that as such he is entitled to discretionary function immunity regarding his decision to arrest Lewis and the manner in which he conducted the arrest. Regarding the claims of battery and negligence, the memo states in part that though the lawsuit generally alleges that McCann and Blood attempted to forcibly remove Lewis from his vehicle, McCann’s specific actions are not mentioned.
The city’s response also states that both parties in the suit have conferred and agreed that the police department is not a separate entity capable of being sued, and rather that it is is a department of the city.
The lawsuit was originally filed in Douglas County District Court, but because the allegations fall under the federal Civil Rights Act, attorneys representing the city subsequently moved the case to the U.S. District Court of Kansas City, Kan.
According to the lawsuit, Lewis was taken to Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka; the bullet had to be surgically removed and required a small bowel resection, or the removal of part of Lewis’ small intestine. The lawsuit states that Lewis has incurred past and future medical damages, past and future lost wages and has suffered and continues to suffer from emotional distress relative to being shot by Blood. The lawsuit states that Lewis has incurred damages in excess of $100,000 and requests that those damages be provided to Lewis along with interest, legal costs and other relief the court may deem just and equitable.
Blood was charged in relation to the incident, but Judge Peggy Kittel dismissed those charges in March, as the Journal-World previously reported. Prosecutors had alleged that Blood acted recklessly when she shot Lewis despite “extensive” police training. Kittel disagreed, saying Blood made a mistake and may have been negligent but evidence at the preliminary hearing did not support the felony of reckless aggravated battery.
As seen in the video, Blood yelled “Taser” before firing and later told investigators that she meant to use her Taser but mistakenly drew her gun. Blood, who was a rookie officer at the time of the incident, resigned from the police department in late January.
Lewis was also charged in relation to the incident. In August, he pleaded no contest in Douglas County District Court to battery against a law enforcement officer. Lewis was sentenced to 12 months of probation, required to take anger management classes and must pay court costs and other fees, among other conditions.
Both Lewis and the city have requested a trial by jury. No trial date has been set.