ST. LOUIS (CN) - A family whose son was shot to death by an off-duty police officer claims in court that the investigation was botched and that the cop had a checkered past.
VonDerrit Myers Jr.'s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in City Court on Wednesday against Jason Flanery, Flora Place Community Improvement District, and GCI Security. Flanery, then an off-duty police officer, shot Myers on Oct. 8, 2014, while moonlighting as a GCI security guard hired by Flora Place.
Flanery, who is white, fired eight shots at Myers, an 18-year-old black man, hitting him seven times, according to the autopsy.
The shooting came two months after the Michael Brown shooting in nearby Ferguson. Myers' death also sparked highly charged protests , in the Shaw neighborhood of St. Louis, 12 miles southeast of Ferguson.
Police say Myers fired several shots at Flanery, prompting Flanery to fire back, but Myers' family denies it.
"We do not believe there was a gun on him and after having our expert go over there and survey the entire scene where all the shell casings would have been, when completely laid out, it does not support Officer Flanery's version of the story," Myers family attorney Jermaine Wooten told Courthouse News.
"The story that Officer Flanery had given initially, the actual scientific evidence, does not support it. It's factually impossible it happened the way Officer Flanery described it."
Wooten said an expert hired by the Myers family found discrepancies in the investigation by St. Louis authorities.
"We have a number of shell casings that were missing, so whoever did that investigation according to our expert did such a botched job that it's unbelievable," Wooten said.
The complaint implies that Flanery planted the gun that police claim Myers shot.
"Jason Flanery was employed as a City of St. Louis Police Officer and had a checkered past," the complaint states. "Four months prior to the killing of VonDerrit, he and another police officer planted a gun to justify firing shots at citizens who were fleeing from Flanery and his partner."
Wooten told Courthouse News that allegation stems from a case involving Keyon Bennett, whom a jury acquitted of four felony charges. The St. Louis American reported that jurors did not believe the story of police Officer James Zwilling, who claimed Bennett pointed a gun at him, but the article did not mention the planting of guns.
Flanery was on patrol with Zwilling during the Bennett incident and did not testify during that trial. Courthouse News could find no record of any punishment for the officers by the St. Louis Police Department relating to the Bennett incident.
Flanery resigned from police force after a DWI incident last December.
In May, the city's circuit attorney's office announced it would not seek criminal charges against Flanery for the Myers shooting.
"We did not anticipate the circuit attorney's office initiating a case against Officer Flanery," Wooten said in an interview. "Unless you have these shootings on videotape from beginning to end, there's not enough pressure on the circuit attorney's office to issue a charge.
"Anytime the officer even hints that they thought they'd seen a gun or this person fired shots at me, nine times out of 10 the circuit attorney's office will be more partial to the story given by the police officer."
The lawsuit claims that Flanery, with gun drawn, confronted a group of three people, including Myers, while moonlighting as a security guard for the neighborhood on Oct. 8, 2014. It says Flanery holstered his gun and began wrestling with Myers, who pulled away and ran, then was shot to death.
The family says Flora Place and GCI were negligent in hiring Flanery.
"Defendant Flora Place Community Improvement District owed VonDerrit and the public at large a non-delegable duty to provide qualified, adequately trained and careful security personnel and to prevent and mitigate dangerous conditions and dangerous security guards like Flanery who were likely to kill innocent citizens just walking down public streets," the complaint states.
Myers was wearing an electronic ankle bracelet when he died, as part of home detention stemming from a pending criminal charge. Wooten said Myers was allowed to leave the house, but was not sure of his curfew time on the night of the shooting.
Neither GCI Security nor Flora Place responded to requests for comment Thursday.
Flanery's attorney, Brian Millikan, declined comment to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Thursday, without having seen the lawsuit.
Millikan has said that Myers' wounds buttressed Flanery's version of events, in which Myers ended up lying on his side shooting at him, according to the Post-Dispatch.
The Myers family seeks an damages for wrongful death.
"VonDerrit was the father of one child," Wooten said in an interview. "Now we have one child out there that will never get to know his dad. The only thing he will know of his dad is that his dad died tragically in this incident and then he can go online and just find a bunch of different stories about his dad, but he'll never get know his dad. He won't have a father that will play baseball or football, he won't have a father taking him back and forth to school and he won't have a father teaching him the basic steps to be a man."
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