The family of a 26-year-old North Carolina man who was shot and killed by a Lakewood police officer during a traffic stop May 1 has filed a $28 million wrongful-death claim against the city, its police chief and the officer.
The tort claim, filed with the city clerk, alleges 26-year-old Said Joquin had his hands up when Officer Mike Wiley allegedly approached the vehicle with his gun drawn and told him to “Shut the [expletive] up or you’ll get shot” before firing three times while Joquin had his hands up, then reportedly dragged the dying man from the car and “slammed him onto the ground.”
According to an ongoing investigation into the shooting, Wiley said he believed Joquin was reaching for a handgun on the floor of the vehicle. Wiley had pulled over the vehicle for running a stop sign.
The tort claim puts the city on notice that a lawsuit may be filed unless the claim is resolved. The city has 60 days to respond to the claim, which was filed by Tacoma civil-rights attorney Jack Connelly on behalf of Dawn Kortner, Joquin’s mother from Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Connelly was one of the attorneys who sued Lakewood, Lakewood Police Chief Mike Zaro, Wiley and others over the 2013 shooting death of Leonard Thomas, who was killed during a standoff with a SWAT team led by Wiley and overseen by Zaro. A federal jury in 2017 awarded Thomas’s family $15.1 million in damages — including $6.5 million in punitive damages from Zaro, Wiley and another officer, Brian Markert. The city settled the case after the verdict for $13 million.
Wiley was sharply criticized in an opinion upholding the verdict in the Thomas case for his role as tactical leader of a SWAT team that used explosives to breach a back door and rush into the house, shooting the family dog and set in motion events that led to Thomas being shot by a police sniper. The claim filed in the Joquin case alleges Wiley is “unnecessarily aggressive, unfamiliar with police protocols regarding the use of deadly force (and) eager to use deadly force.”
The claim alleges the city of Lakewood “unreasonably and recklessly” continued to employ the officers and promoted Zaro to chief despite the jury’s findings that Thomas’s civil-rights were violated and that Zaro attempted to cover up mistakes by personally investigating and clearing himself and the other officers afterward.
The city declined to comment on the tort claim, citing the ongoing investigation into the shooting. “Once the investigation is complete and the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office has reviewed the findings and made its decision, then the city will provide comment,” Lakewood spokesperson Brynn Grimley said.
Evidence at the Thomas trial, according to the claim, “revealed Wiley to be an exceptionally aggressive officer with an inadequate understanding of use of force, who was eager to use guns, explosives and unnecessary force, and who had demonstrated a striking lack of concern for life.”
Wiley reportedly announced “Jackpot!” when Thomas was shot, and later told investigators that it was a “frickin’ million-dollar shot,” according to testimony at the Thomas trial and court documents.
The city publicly called the verdict “incomprehensible and demoralizing.” In court, it argued that the jury’s verdict was motivated by fear of racial backlash, because Thomas was an unarmed black man killed by police in the time of “Black Lives Matter” protests.
That prompted a blistering opinion by the trial judge, U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein, who said it was “insulting.” She said she had heard ample evidence for a jury to have concluded that Wiley, Zaro, Markert and others acted outrageously and with callous indifference to the life of Thomas, and the impact their actions would have on his young son and parents.
The claim raises concerns that the review of the Joquin shooting will not be objective or fair, despite protocols laid out in Initiative 940, which went into law in January and overhauled how police shootings are investigated. It questions whether the Cooperative Cities Crime Response Team looking into the shooting can truly be independent, because its detectives routinely work with Lakewood officers.