A federal civil-rights lawsuit filed over the 2017 shooting death of a 20-year-old man alleges two Kent police officers initiated a chase that ended in gunfire after he was pulled over for driving with an expired registration.
The lawsuit, filed by Giovonn Joseph-McDade’s parents, Sonja Joseph and Giovanni McDade, on Friday in U.S. District Court, alleges the officers violated Kent policy regarding chases and the use of deadly force by pursuing Joseph-McDade, who had been stopped because Officer Matthew Rausch apparently thought he looked suspicious and had an expired registration. Joseph-McDade, who was unarmed and had a passenger in his car, drove away from this initial encounter, which prompted Rausch to initiate a pursuit.
The lawsuit alleges Joseph-McDade was not armed and had committed no other crime. However, Rausch and another officer, William Davis, joined in a chase in which they tried three times to perform a dangerous “pursuit intervention technique” — a PIT maneuver — to stop Joseph-McDade’s 1991 Honda Accord, according to the suit. The maneuver entails an officer using his squad car to bump the rear fender of a vehicle to force it into a spin.
Just three minutes after first contacting the man, the officers reportedly trapped his car in a cul-de-sac. Rausch, the lawsuit alleges, rammed the Accord while Davis exited his car and, standing on the passenger side of the vehicle, fired two shots from his handgun through the windshield. One of the rounds hit Joseph-McDade in the chest.
His car zoomed away after the shots, but stopped nearby with Joseph-McDade dead behind the wheel. A portion of that incident — including the collision and sound of the gunshots — was captured on a surveillance camera at a nearby home.
Des Moines police, the law-enforcement agency that led the shooting investigation, later said officers found close to 5 grams of methamphetamine in Joseph-McDade’s wallet and nearly 70 grams of marijuana in his car. Davis also claimed Joseph-McDade had accelerated toward him before the officer opened fire.
“The driver had appeared to submit when he saw me with my firearm pointed at him … (but then) he had accelerated directly at me,” Davis wrote in his statement. “The driver was very committed to escaping … I was afraid that I was going to be seriously injured or killed by the vehicle.”
The lawsuit cites Kent police policy regarding chases and the use of PIT maneuvers and contends the officers failed to meet their requirements, even though the officers were cleared of wrongdoing in the shootings. The action claims that Rausch failed to balance the severity of the reason Joseph-McDade was stopped — a non-moving traffic violation — with the threat that a chase might pose to the public.
A telephone message seeking comment from Kent police was not returned Tuesday.
The lawsuit alleges Joseph-McDade and his passenger — who had a warrant out for his arrest — caught Rausch’s attention while parked at a gas and convenience store. The officer would say later that he thought one of them looked “scared” and that the driver “appeared as if he was trying to avoid being stopped or confronted by me.” Rausch said he noticed the expired registration and pulled them over.
Initially, Joseph-McDade got out of the car, however, Rausch said he ordered him back inside the vehicle. At some point shortly after, Joseph-McDade drove away and Rausch initiated the pursuit, a move the lawsuit alleges escalated the incident and led to the unnecessary use of deadly force.
The lawsuit claims that there was no supervisor monitoring the officers’ actions and that Davis had a female civilian Kent police employee in his vehicle when he joined the chase, putting her at risk as well. There was little traffic, according to the lawsuit, and the speeds on thoroughfares approached 60 mph. The Honda rarely exceeded 20 mph when Joseph-McDade drove into residential streets, with two police cars, lights and sirens blaring, right behind him, the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit alleges that policy provides for the use of boxing or PIT maneuvers only when the situation would warrant the use of deadly force.
“Pursuant to Kent Police Department Policy … the officers were not authorized to use deadly force because there was no need to act in self-defense of a fleeing vehicle,” the lawsuit claims. “There was no objectively reasonable basis to believe the officers or any other individual was in immediate danger of death or great bodily harm.
Moreover, it alleges Davis was never made aware of why Rausch had initiated the pursuit. “Officer Rausch did not communicate to Officer Davis any basis for a reasonable suspicion that the occupants of the Honda Accord were implicated in anything more than a traffic violation.”