Judge dismisses case against Lawrence police officer who shot man, says evidence does not show she acted recklessly
photo by: Sara Shepherd
Story updated: 6:38 p.m. Wednesday, March 27, 2019.
A judge on Wednesday dismissed criminal charges against a former Lawrence police officer who shot a civilian last year as he attacked a fellow officer.
The officer made a mistake and may have been negligent, Douglas County District Court Judge Peggy Kittel said, but evidence at the preliminary hearing did not support the felony crime charged: reckless aggravated battery.
Under Kansas law, acting recklessly means consciously disregarding a risk and deviating grossly from the standards of a reasonable person, Kittel said.
“To consciously disregard something, one must be aware of it,” Kittel said. “There is no evidence that the defendant consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk … She meant to use her Taser.”
photo by: Sara Shepherd
Prosecutors had alleged that Brindley D. Blood, 36, acted recklessly when she injured the man with a deadly weapon despite “extensive” police training. Blood yelled “Taser” before firing and later told investigators that she meant to use her Taser but mistakenly drew her gun.
Blood’s lawyers argued that their client may have made a mistake but that — particularly given the need for “instantaneous” action — she wasn’t reckless.
In explaining her ruling, Kittel emphasized that the situation was “chaotic” and that the man’s attack on the officer and subsequent shooting happened “in a matter of seconds.” The case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning the state could refile charges later.
In a written statement following the hearing, Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said he did not intend to do so.
“The State does not anticipate filing any different charges against Ms. Blood,” he said. “The State will review the Court’s ruling and determine whether an appeal of the dismissal should be filed.”
Branson said it was the duty of his office to present evidence for a judge to consider whether there was probable cause that a crime occurred, and explained why he charged Blood with acting recklessly.
“This case presented our office with an extremely unique set of facts,” Branson said. “Clearly Ms. Blood was negligent during the deployment of her firearm. Kansas law, however, provides little to no guidance on how to proceed in these circumstances. Kansas, unlike some states, does not recognize criminal negligence. Kansas does recognize reckless conduct.”
Blood and her attorneys, Tom Bath and Michael Riling, said they were happy with the judge’s ruling, but they declined to answer further questions after the hearing.
“We think the judge’s decision was right,” Bath said. “Brindley wants to get this behind her and move on with her life.”
Blood — a rookie officer who’d only been on the streets on her own about two months before the shooting — resigned from the police department in late January. Previously she had been on paid administrative leave. She had been free on bond since her arrest on the charges.
Kittel announced her decision to dismiss the case after taking time to mull evidence she heard during Blood’s preliminary hearing last week. The judge heard testimony from the man who was shot, 35-year-old Lawrence resident Akira S. Lewis, and several law enforcement agents. She also saw police dashcam video of the shooting.
The Journal-World published that video Monday, after obtaining it through a new open records request filed since it was played in court.
The shooting happened about 5:15 p.m. on May 29, 2018, in the 100 block of West Sixth Street, at the north end of downtown Lawrence.
The incident began with a traffic stop, but escalated, the video shows.
Another officer, assigned to a special seat belt enforcement campaign, pulled Lewis over for not wearing a seat belt. Lewis became hostile, yelled and cursed at Officer Ian McCann, demanded to speak to a police supervisor, and refused to provide his identification. After repeated attempts to convince Lewis to cooperate, McCann called for backup to arrest him.
Blood arrived, and the two officers tried unsuccessfully to talk, then physically force, Lewis out of his SUV.
McCann called for more backup, but before additional officers got there, Lewis jumped out of the vehicle, punched McCann, lifted him off his feet, flung him to the pavement, landed on top of him and swung at him again.
Blood ran from the other side of the SUV, drew her gun with her right hand from her right hip, stood over the two men on the ground, yelled, “Taser-Taser-Taser,” and fired once.
After Lewis cried out in pain, Blood can be heard on the video saying, “Oh, shit, I shot him.”
Lewis was charged in the incident, as well.
He is charged with battery against a law enforcement officer, interference with law enforcement and driving without proof of insurance, all misdemeanors, and failure to wear a seat belt, a traffic infraction.
At the time, Lewis had outstanding warrants for failures to appear in court in three older traffic cases, one in Douglas County District Court, one in Lawrence Municipal Court and one in Johnson County District Court. The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office investigation into the Lawrence shooting confirmed Lewis’ driver’s license had been suspended since September 2017 and that he’d been ticketed for driving without a valid license six times since 2010.
Lewis’ trial for his Douglas County District Court cases is scheduled in June before Judge James George. He is free on bond.
Lewis, who is black, contends he was racially profiled by being pulled over and that McCann should have called a supervisor when he demanded one. Lewis testified in court last week, and claimed in the video, that he saw McCann pass two white drivers who were not wearing seat belts. In the video, McCann replied that he did not see them.
McCann and Blood are both white.
At Blood’s preliminary hearing, her attorneys suggested Lewis was lying about being racially profiled and refused to hand over his identification so the officer wouldn’t know he had outstanding warrants.
• March 25, 2019 — Lawrence police release video of officer shooting man after traffic stop