Attorneys say former Lawrence police officer who shot driver cannot be found for lawsuit
photo by: Sara Shepherd
The police officer who shot a Lawrence driver after a 2018 traffic stop turned violent cannot be found.
The driver, Akira Lewis, filed an excessive-force lawsuit in September against the former officer Brindley Blood, as well as the City of Lawrence, the other officer involved in the traffic stop and the police chief. The lawsuit also alleges that the city failed to properly train its officers. Efforts by Lewis’ attorneys — including hiring a private investigator — have not succeeded in locating Blood so that she can be served the court summons, according to court filings.
Attorney Shaye Downing, who represents Lewis, filed an affidavit for service by publication Tuesday in the United States District Court of Kansas City, Kan. Downing states in the affidavit that she has tried unsuccessfully to serve Blood the petition and summons. She states that she has sought assistance from law enforcement, a process service company and a private investigator to locate Blood but has been unable to find out where she is currently living. The court will decide whether to approve serving Blood through newspaper publication.
The Journal-World asked Downing whether she thought that Blood was avoiding being served, and Downing said via email that she couldn’t speak to the motivation of Blood. She said she could say that she had undergone extensive efforts to serve Blood but had been unsuccessful.
Court filings indicate that a Utah sheriff’s office and a private investigator with the Utah Process Service attempted to serve Blood at two addresses in that state and were informed that Blood no longer resided at the first address and was unknown at the second address. The private investigator also called and left a message for Blood on a phone number that the voicemail message confirmed belonged to Blood. Downing’s filing states that Blood did not return the call.
photo by: Sara Shepherd
The shooting occurred on May 29, 2018, in the 100 block of West Sixth Street, at the north end of downtown, after Officer Ian 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, stating that Lewis is “going to jail.” 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 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. Blood, who was a rookie officer at the time of the incident, resigned from the police department in January 2019. Public records indicate that Blood and her husband sold their Lawrence home in April of that year and that the couple divorced in July. At the time of the divorce, records indicate Blood lived in Utah.
Blood was charged in relation to the incident, but Judge Peggy Kittel dismissed those charges in March. 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.
The lawsuit alleges that Blood used excessive force and that both Blood and McCann battered Lewis and inflicted emotional distress through negligence. The police department conducts its own training academy for officers, and the lawsuit also alleged that the city, police department and Police Chief Gregory Burns Jr. failed to properly train and supervise officers. In December, the city denied claims that its police department used excessive force, stating in part that Lewis unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities and that any harm he suffered was caused by his conduct. At that time, the city also filed motions to dismiss claims against Burns and McCann. The city argued in part that the lawsuit does not state any direct actions taken by Burns and that McCann is entitled to discretionary function immunity regarding his decision to arrest Lewis and the manner in which he conducted the arrest.
Lewis’ attorneys responded on Jan. 10 to the city’s motions and agreed to remove claims against Burns but not against McCann. They argue in part that McCann’s attempts to arrest Lewis following the seat-belt stop were not lawful under Kansas statute, and therefore discretionary immunity does not apply. The response also states that McCann’s decision to escalate the dispute by calling for back-up and attempting to physically and forcibly remove Lewis from his vehicle was a proximate cause for the ultimate injury.
Downing told the Journal-World that she believes it is very important for all of those involved in the incident to be a part of the process. She said it needs to be understood why it happened to begin with and what steps are being taken to prevent it from happening again. She said that can only be accomplished if all of those involved are included.
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.