ROCKFORD, Ill. (CN) - Police officers chased an unarmed young man into a day care center and shot him in the head in front of 10 children after he surrendered, the children's parents and day care employees say in Federal Court. The families say the police then detained the kids, refused to feed them, lied to them, and tried to make them change their stories about what they had seen.
Guns drawn, Rockford police Officers Stanton North and Oda Poole chased 23-year-old Mark Balmore into the House of Grace Christian Learning Center in August, according to the complaint. Day-care workers said the officers pointed their guns "into a classroom full of children" as they sought Balmore for "alleged criminal activity."
(The Rockford Register Star reported that Balmore may have been involved in "two domestic disputes.")
Balmore hid in a basement equipment room next to the children's play area, and when he came out, unarmed, with his hands raised, the officers shot him once in the head and several times in the back, the day care workers said.
The officers then interrogated the children and would not allow them to speak to their parents, many of whom had gathered outside, according to the complaint. Parents and day care workers say that the kids were denied food, though it was lunch time.
The officers "lied to the children regarding the events that occurred during Balmore's shooting death in attempt to improperly change [their] account of the events to a version ... that justified the actions" of the officers, the complaint states.
It adds that the police took day care operator Shelia Brown, her daughter, and the Rev. Melvin Brown to the station, against their will to interrogate them.
The day care center is in a church associated with Kingdom Authority International Ministries, which also is a plaintiff.
Balmore was black. Lead counsel Keenan Saulter told the Register Star that the lawsuit is not about race, and that the plaintiffs include white, black and Latino children.
"If you think about it, children 8, 9, 10 years old were placed in a situation where they watched a man die," Saulter said, adding that their response would had been the same had the officers been African-American.
Officers said that Balmore fit the description of a man wanted in two domestic disputes and that there was a struggle over an officer's gun before he was shot - statements that were disputed by the day care workers, according to the Star.
The learning center and parents, on behalf of the 10 children, have sued the Rockford Police Department, the city and the officers for civil rights violations, emotional distress, false imprisonment and negligent retention. They seek punitive damages.