WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Attorneys for the family of a black man who was fatally shot by Wilmington police while sitting in his wheelchair sued the police department and the city Thursday, alleging that the shooting was racially motivated.
The Superior Court civil rights lawsuit claims that officers involved in the September shooting of Jeremy McDole violated “use of force” policies and had no reason to use “grossly excessive and wanton lethal force” against him.
“Before using deadly force, Jeremy should have been talked down by a properly trained professional before a cowboy mentality seeped into police work,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit also claims that McDole, 28, was the victim of intentional racial discrimination, and that the four officers involved in the shooting would not have shot a similarly situated white person.
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Officials have not released the names or races of the officers involved in the shooting.
“We don’t have all the answers, but we’re going to get the answers in court using the legal process,” said Thomas Neuberger, an attorney representing McDole’s mother and grandmother.
“All we know is that the officers were not black, and he was black,” Neuberger said before filing the lawsuit.
The shooting is being investigated by the police department’s professional standards unit to determine whether any of the officers violated departmental policies or procedures. The Delaware Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust is conducting a separate investigation, as it does following any use of deadly force by police, which will determine whether any officers will be charged.
“The city is awaiting the conclusion of both investigations … and cannot comment on the incident,” police department spokeswoman Sgt. Andrea Janvier said in an email.
Neuberger said he doesn’t trust the police department or Attorney General Matt Denn’s office to conduct unbiased investigations.
“We expect a cover-up and a whitewash by the Wilmington Police Department and the attorney general’s office,” he said at a news conference Thursday after the lawsuit was filed.
Carl Kanefsy, a spokesman for Denn, declined to comment on Neuberger’s statement but said the investigation into the shooting should be completed in the near future.
“The department’s investigation has included conducting and observing interviews of law enforcement officers, witnesses, community members, and other persons claiming to have relevant knowledge of the incident, including new individuals that investigators have learned of, sought out and interviewed in the last few weeks,” Kanefsky said in an email, adding that the final autopsy report was completed Jan. 28.
Investigators also have subpoenaed and reviewed hundreds of pages of documents, said Kanefsky, noting that investigations into other police use of force incidents in recent years have taken an average of more than nine months.
Neuberger and attorneys with the Wilmington law firm Jacobs & Crumplar took over the case a couple of weeks ago after the McDole family dismissed well-known Baltimore attorney Billy Murphy. Murphy negotiated a $6.4 million settlement with Baltimore officials on behalf of the family of Freddie Gray, whose death while in police custody led to rioting last year.
Murphy did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Thursday.
Wilmington officers encountered McDole after receiving a 911 call about man who had shot himself and was still armed with a handgun.
“Back up, back up, he’s still got a gun,” a frantic woman yells at bystanders as she talks to a 911 operator.
“Please get the police here, he shot himself, he’s still got a gun in his hand,” the woman tells the operator.
The McDole family’s lawsuit asserts that Jeremy McDole was robbed earlier that day and implies that the woman who called 911 may have been an accomplice to the robbery. Just days after the shooting, McDole’s mother, Phyllis McDole, was charged with assaulting a woman she mistakenly thought had made the 911 call about her son.
A bystander’s cellphone footage shows responding officers repeatedly telling Jeremy McDole to drop his weapon and raise his hands and McDole reaching for his waist area before shots erupt.
Authorities say they recovered a .38 caliber handgun near McDole’s body, but the lawsuit claims that McDole was unarmed.
The lawsuit also claims that McDole, who was left paralyzed after being shot in the back in 2005, was well adjusted and did not have any mental health issues.
Court records obtained by The Associated Press show that McDole had previously expressed suicidal thoughts and had a history of being combative with police. The records show that McDole, who had at least 16 arrests, expressed suicidal behavior in 2010 and was accused of being combative with law enforcement, with one case file noting that he “will resist police.”