US

Lawyer details agony for family of black man killed by Ohio cops in 2017

Two Ohio police officers who shot and killed an unarmed black man, 23, who was sleeping in his car, will avoid jail time due to qualified immunity, leaving the family in agony, a lawyer claims. 

Euclid Police Department (EPD) officers Matthew Rhodes and Louis Catalani have not yet been brought to justice after Rhodes’ shot Luke Stewart five times in 2017 after dragging him out of his car, the family’s lawyer, Sarah Gelsomino, said, and it’s unlikely they ever will as a grand jury has declined to indict them.  

‘Qualified immunity was meant to protect officers from gray areas and unforeseeable changes in the law,’ Gelsomino wrote in an opinion piece for USA Today Thursday.  

‘Officers can be held liable only for violations of clearly established laws, and they are protected when they had no advance notice that their conduct would be unconstitutional. 

‘The quest of what is “clearly established” is constantly in flux but has generally been interpreted in a manner that protects police even when they demonstrate a lack of concern for people’s lives and safety,’ she wrote.  

Luke Stewart, 23, was fatally shot five times after two Euclid, Ohio, Police Department officeres woke up him while he was sleeping in his car, got into his vehicle, dragged him out and shot him to death

Stewart was found sleeping in his car after a resident of a nearby home called the Euclid Police Department to report a 'suspicious vehicle'

Stewart was found sleeping in his car after a resident of a nearby home called the Euclid Police Department to report a ‘suspicious vehicle’ 

The two officers had approached Stewart’s car in March 2017 after receiving a call about a suspicious vehicle idling outside a home. 

‘I was dispatched to a suspicious vehicle call. The information that the dispatcher gave to me was that a resident had called [and] said she had observed a vehicle that had been idling for like 20 minutes in front of her house – I think the wording she used was “didn’t belong there,”‘ Catalani, who arrived first, said at the time. 

‘I told Officer Rhodes over the air that we’re going to end up pulling this guy out of car,’ Catalani told the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BCI), who investigated the incident. 

Stewart was parked near a friend’s house after a night of drinking. 

His family thought he choose to stay there because it was ‘the safest place to be,’ a Reuters special investigation found.

They knocked on his windows and failed to announce themselves as law enforcement. 

When Stewart awoke, he reportedly started his car and tried to get away, according to the News Herald

Catalani told the Ohio BCI that he wanted to ‘grab him by the head’ after Stewart woke up and ‘that was his goal.’ 

He cited his reasoning as ‘if I get get the head out, I can get him out.’ 

Officers Matthew Rhodes (center right), who shot Stewart five times, and Louis Catalani (center left in red) were involved in the shooting. Catalani, who arrived first to the scene, told Rhodes they were 'going to end up pulling this guy out of car' and that 'was the goal'

Officers Matthew Rhodes (center right), who shot Stewart five times, and Louis Catalani (center left in red) were involved in the shooting. Catalani, who arrived first to the scene, told Rhodes they were ‘going to end up pulling this guy out of car’ and that ‘was the goal’ 

Catalani (above) told the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BCI) - which investigated the incident - that he wanted to 'grab him [Stewart] by the head'

Both Rhodes (above, with family) and Catalani failed to turn on their dashcams. Neither officer was equipped with a bodycam, as it was voluntary and self-funded within the EPD in 2017

Catalani (left) told the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BCI) – which investigated the incident – that he wanted to ‘grab him by the head.’ Both Rhodes (right, with family) and Catalani failed to turn on their dashcams. Neither officer was equipped with a bodycam, as it was voluntary and self-funded within the EPD in 2017

Stewart's mother Mary (pictured) filed a federal lawsuit in 2017, alleging that the city 'encouraged, or at least condoned, excessive force'

Stewart’s mother Mary (pictured) filed a federal lawsuit in 2017, alleging that the city ‘encouraged, or at least condoned, excessive force’ 

The family's case was denied by the Supreme Court, which upheld an appeals court decision that the family could not sue the City of Euclid or the officers (pictured: Luke's son)

The family’s case was denied by the Supreme Court, which upheld an appeals court decision that the family could not sue the City of Euclid or the officers (pictured: Luke’s son) 

The Supreme Court denied hearing the family's (pictured in Mary's home) case in May 2021

The Supreme Court denied hearing the family’s (pictured in Mary’s home) case in May 2021

Luke was shot by Rhodes once in the neck and wrist and three times in the chest. He was transported to Euclid Hospital, which does not have a trauma center, his sister Terra said

Luke was shot by Rhodes once in the neck and wrist and three times in the chest. He was transported to Euclid Hospital, which does not have a trauma center, his sister Terra said

The officers allegedly opened Stewart’s car door and entered the vehicle, where they proceeded to beat him, drag him out of the car in an ‘unpleasant’ headlock, and shot him five times – once in the wrist and neck and three times in the chest, according to his family. 

Stewart was unarmed. 

Rhodes told the Ohio BCI that he was ‘yelling’ at Stewart ‘to stop’ and admitted to ‘striking him on the head’ before deploying a taser. 

‘I had no idea what was coming out of my mouth,’ Rhodes told investigators. 

Once the safety kicked on the taser, Rhodes admitted to pulling out his duty weapon and shooting Stewart ‘in the chest twice.’ 

He also alleged that Stewart swung at him before he shot him in the neck. 

He claimed the neck injury ‘definitely had an effect’ and ‘loosened him up.’

The BCI Medical Report found that Stewart had been shot five times. 

He was transported to Euclid Hospital, which does not have a trauma center, according to his sister Terra. 

University and Metro hospitals in the area both have trauma centers. 

‘Euclid hospital couldn’t help him,’ Terra said in an interview with Real News. ‘Anybody knows that. We have two trauma centers here: Metro or University.

‘The type of gunshot wounds he had, he wasn’t supposed to go there [Euclid Hospital].’ 

Euclid Hospital is a part of the esteemed Cleveland Clinic, which is named the number two hospital in the nation and number one for heart care. 

Bodycam footage, obtained by Reuters, of first responders on the scene showed another officer ordering someone to stay with Stewart as they transported him to the hospital. 

The unidentified officer can be heard saying: ‘Somebody stay with him. Actually, I prefer one of the guys that wasn’t here for this.’ 

Bodycam footage of first responders show Stewart being lifted onto a gurney in 2017

Bodycam footage of first responders show Stewart being lifted onto a gurney in 2017

Bodycam footage, obtained by Reuters, of first responders on the scene showed another officer ordering someone to stay with Stewart as they transported him to the hospital. The unidentified officer can be heard saying: 'Somebody stay with him. Actually, I prefer one of the guys that wasn't here for this'

Bodycam footage, obtained by Reuters, of first responders on the scene showed another officer ordering someone to stay with Stewart as they transported him to the hospital. The unidentified officer can be heard saying: ‘Somebody stay with him. Actually, I prefer one of the guys that wasn’t here for this’

Stewart's car is pictured on the grass in 2017. He allegedly started the car after waking up, not knowing that the men outside his window were officers, as they failed to announce themselves as such

Stewart’s car is pictured on the grass in 2017. He allegedly started the car after waking up, not knowing that the men outside his window were officers, as they failed to announce themselves as such

Gelsomino has been fighting for the family since 2017 and is calling the officers’ behavior unlawful, as Stewart was not committing a crime. 

‘Any reasonable, safe and professional police officer should know the Constitution doesn’t permit police to see a person who isn’t committing a crime, open their car doors, jump into the vehicle, beat them and kill them,’ Gelsomino wrote in USA Today this week.

The officers were not equipped with body cameras – which were voluntary and self-funded within the EPD in 2017 – and failed to turn on the dashcam in their vehicle. 

‘Both the officers failed to turn on their dashcams,’ Gelsomino told Real News. 

‘Catalani claims he forgot, Rhodes actually considered turning it on and decided not to. 

‘Rhodes’ car was directly in front of Luke’s car, so had he followed the policy on the police department and turned on his dashcam, we would have video of this. But he didn’t. He decided not to turn it on.’ 

This detail was noted in the investigation, according to Gelsomino, but no disciplinary action was taken against the officers.  

The Euclid Police Department – located in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio – announced last month that it will mandate body cameras for all officers, four years after two fatally shot Stewart.  

On September 7, 2021, Captain Mitch Houser and Chief Scott Meyer announced that the Euclid police force will mandate body cameras for all its officers. 

Houser, who has been heavily involved in the bodycam program, said the cameras will become a part of the uniform for all officers. 

‘They will be required to, in the very same way they’re required to wear their ballistic vest,’ Houser said at the September meeting. ‘It’s a piece of equipment that we can mandate that they use and wear daily.’

Body cameras are not mandated in the state of Ohio, as and the governor’s office has estimated that roughly two-thirds of the state’s police department are not equipped with the devices due to cost. 

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced on the same day, September 7, that he would be offering $5 million in grant funding to help agencies – especially smaller ones – to invest in cameras and video storage equipment. 

The Euclid Police Department announced in September 2021 that it would make body cameras a mandatory part of all officer's uniforms. The program will cost $500,000 over five years

The Euclid Police Department announced in September 2021 that it would make body cameras a mandatory part of all officer’s uniforms. The program will cost $500,000 over five years

‘Body cameras are beneficial for peace officers and the public because they act as impartial eyes on events as they transpire, but most law enforcement agencies in Ohio don’t have them because they can’t afford them,’ DeWine said in a statement. 

‘One of my top priorities has always been ensuring that our law enforcement officers have the tools they need to best serve the public.’ 

The grant, which was available until October 8, will ‘prioritize funding for agencies that have not yet established a body-worn camera program’ and are in adherence to the Ohio Community-Police Collaborative’s body-worn camera standard. 

The Euclid Police Department announced it planned to apply for the grant in September. 

‘Obviously, we will apply and see what we can get out of this, but it will be highly-competitive,’ Meyer’s said. He reminded citizens that a large police department could consume a large amount of the money. 

It is unknown if the Euclid Police Department received a grant. 

It is unknown if Stewart’s case was a driving force in the Euclid Police Department’s decision to opt into body cameras four years later. 

Despite Euclid police being mandated to wear body cameras – once the $500,000 program is fully initiated, which the department says will be paid off in five years – which will prevent other cases like Stewart’s from happening, Stewart’s case is in a standstill. 

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced in September 2021 that he would be offering a $5 million grant fund program to help police departments purchase body cameras and equipment. The Euclid Police Department announced it would apply for the grant

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced in September 2021 that he would be offering a $5 million grant fund program to help police departments purchase body cameras and equipment. The Euclid Police Department announced it would apply for the grant 

The Supreme Court denied hearing Stewart’s case – which was brought forward by his mother Mary-  in May 2021.  

The Supreme Court is leaving in place an appeals court decision that ruled Stewart’s family could not sue the City of Euclid or the officers for his death. 

Stewart’s family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in 2017, citing that the city ‘encouraged, or at least condoned, excessive force.’ 

The officers cite that they believed Stewart was intoxicated and allegedly saw signs of drug use, according to The Associated Press

Rhodes won’t face charges for killing Stewart after a a grand jury declined to indict him after hearing evidence from prosecutors, according to AP. 

‘His inability to deal with the situation in a legal way, it exposes the problems within Euclid’s training,’ Gelsomino said in an interview with the Real News.  ‘Euclid certainly didn’t train on how to jump into the car.’

She cited that months before the shooting the Euclid Police Department did partake in a defensive tactics training, which ‘made light of the use of force against people,’ the family lawyer recounted to Real News. 

‘It joked about beating people up,’ she said. 

‘Who puts humor in excessive force training,’ his sister Terra agreed in an interview. ‘That’s something you take serious. 

‘You’re out here dealing with people. This is something close to military training,’ she told Real News. ‘I’ve been to the military and they did not have no humor in nothing they trained us to do.’ 


Source link

Related Articles

Back to top button