City Still Under Fire for Fatal Shooting by Police
(CN) - A federal judge refused to dismiss a wrongful-death lawsuit against a Florida city whose officers allegedly shot and killed an unarmed drunk man within seconds of encountering him.
The man's mother, Gay Rader, said her 37-year-old son, Ryan, called her at 10 p.m. on Feb. 13 asking for a ride from Melbourne, Fla. He sounded drunk, according to her federal lawsuit against the city.
Rader said she declined to come that night, but told him she would come to see him the next morning.
About 20 minutes later, Ryan's parents called the Melbourne Police Department, telling them their son was suicidal and "potentially armed with a handgun," according to the complaint.
Three officers arrived at the Beach Club Apartments in Melbourne shortly after 10:30 p.m. and saw Ryan Rader in a breezeway, "carrying a beer in one hand and the other hand was in his pocket," the lawsuit states.
The Raders said Officer Brian Cavanaugh shined his flashlight on their son and told him, "Police. Show me your hands."
"At this time Cavanaugh placed his Bushmaster Rifle in the automatic position," they said. "Without allowing Ryan Rader to say a word, Cavanaugh fired ... a 10-shot burst of projectiles in a one-second time span."
Michael Szczepanski fired six shots at Ryan, according to the complaint, and Pete Mercaldo also fired at him.
The Raders said the shooting occurred within three to five seconds of initial contact, and "at no time did Ryan Rader display a gun or threaten the officers with a gun."
Ryan's father, Randolph, told a Florida Today interviewer that he and his wife never should have called police to help.
The parents sued the officers and the City of Melbourne for the wrongful death of their son, and accused the city of failing to properly train and supervise its officers.
U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell in Orlando denied the city's motion to dismiss the allegations against it.
Presnell said the Raders' allegations based on the city's training and supervision practices were "sufficient" at this stage of the proceedings.
The judge also rejected the city's claim that the content of its training is protected by sovereign immunity.
"The plaintiffs acknowledge that sovereign immunity bars a challenge to discretionary governmental functions such as determining the content of a training program, but argue that they are assailing operational decisions as to the implementation of such programs," he wrote.
"At least for now, the court does not find that sovereign immunity bars" the Raders' wrongful-death claim, Presnell ruled.