WILMINGTON, Del. (CN) - The family of a wheelchair-bound black man shot and killed by four white cops blames his death on race discrimination and institutional failures by Delaware police.
Jeremy McDole was paralyzed from his waist down and confined to wheelchair when he was shot 16 times by four unidentified Wilmington police officers on Sept. 23, 2015, according to a March 3 lawsuit filed by McDole's mother and grandmother against four John Doe officers, the City of Wilmington, Del., and its police chief.
The cops were responding to a 911 call claiming there was a man in a wheelchair with a self-inflicted gun wound.
The incident was captured on a cellphone by a witness and it shows McDole sitting calmly in his wheelchair when the white police officers arrive on the scene.
With weapons drawn, the officers tell McDole to show his hands and drop the gun. Although it is not clear in the video if McDole has a gun, he does move his hands up towards his waist band at one point. That is when the officers shoot McDole multiple times. McDole then slumps over and falls out of his wheelchair onto the street.
The lawsuit filed last Thursday says that a "cowboy mentality seeped into police work" when the officers "shot Jeremy sixteen times while acting in the course of their normal police duties," and they "would never have shot a similarly situated white person, and not sixteen times."
McDole's mother and grandmother point to the video as evidence that the unidentified police officers "never identified themselves to [McDole] verbally as 'police' when they issued him commands before recklessly shooting him excessively."
The cops also "never warned Jeremy that deadly force would be used against him to take his life if their commands were not followed," according to the lawsuit.
"The officers involved allegedly violated the Wilmington Police Department 'use of force' directive, due either to their poor training or lack of qualifications to be police officers licensed to use deadly force," the 20-page complaint states.
The lawsuit says the police department directive requires that an officer "'shall' identify himself as a 'police officer' and 'shall give warning'" prior to using a firearm.
"Sixteen shots were grossly excessive and evidence [of] wanton and reckless, intentional behavior toward a minority and a disregard for human life," which constitutes excessive use of force and a violation of McDole's rights, according to the lawsuit.
McDole's family claims that that "lesser forms of force could have been utilized" such as "a stun gun, 15 foot range pepper spray, tear gas or other chemical weapon, a taser, rubber buckshot or a bean bag shotgun." They also say that McDole was unarmed at the time he was shot and killed.
Wilmington Police Chief Bobby Cummings later said that a .38 caliber hand gun was found at McDole's side.
The City of Wilmington and Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn are both conducting investigations into the shooting. Delaware Department of Justice spokesman Carl Kanefsky said the "investigation remains active and underway and is expected to be complete in the near future."
According to a News Journal report, McDole's family says they filed the lawsuit because of police silence in the case since the shooting.
The newspaper quotes their attorney Thomas Crumplar as saying, "It has been five months. The family just cannot wait. We still don't even know the names [of the officers]."
Last week's lawsuit says that, prior to the arrival of police, McDole had his wallet stolen. The 911 call was possibly placed by an accomplice of the thief, who also claimed that McDole shot himself, according to the complaint.
McDole was paralyzed from the waist down after he was shot in the back at the age of 18. He was 28 years old at the time of his death. His family seeks punitive damages.
At a news conference announcing the filing of the lawsuit, McDole family attorney Thomas Neuberger asked anyone in the Wilmington community who witnessed the shooting to come forward.
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