MEMPHIS (CN) - In two lawsuits, two families accuse Memphis police of illegal killings. One family claims cops killed an elderly man on suspicion of abusing his rabbits; the other claims police shot a man 22 times after waking him up from a nap in his car.
Both families sued Memphis, its Police Director Toney Armstrong, and two other officers (in each case), in Shelby County Circuit Court.
The two sons and daughter of the late Donald Moore Sr. claim that members of the Memphis Police Department's TACT Unit shot their father to death in a January 2013 nighttime raid for suspected animal abuse. He was 67.
The officer defendants are Phillip Penny and TACT unit commander Maj. Charles Morris.
"Donald Moore, Sr. was shot and killed by a TACT Unit officer with the MPD after the officer forcibly entered Mr. Moore's home with nine other TACT Unit officers for the purpose of serving a search warrant on Mr. Moore which was related to a potential violation of an animal control ordinance," the complaint states .
"The officers utilized flash bangs and forcibly entered Mr. Moore's home after dark with their full TACT Unit gear and weapons. When Mr. Moore retreated to his bedroom to call 9-1-1 for help and urged the officers to leave, defendant Penny pursued him into his bedroom and killed him by firing multiple shots at close range with his M-4 rifle," according to the complaint.
The warrant was issued because of "a neighbor's complaint that Mr. Moore may not be taking care of his rabbits and cats," the complaint states.
Neighbors were concerned that Moore had too many animals.
Moore had no criminal history, his children say. "(O)fficers were on notice of potential mental health issues with Mr. Moore but chose not to enlist the services of any crisis intervention officers," they add.
After the killing, the "City of Memphis and Armstrong determined that defendant Penny had acted appropriately and in compliance with the policies, practices and customs of the MPD," the complaint states.
The family disagrees. They say the killing violated city, state and federal laws and the state and federal constitutions. The defendants' failure to reprimand of fire Penny "is consistent with the city's pattern of not thoroughly investigating the conduct of its officers and altogether failing to discipline them, which created an environment where officers believe they can violate the civil rights of this city without any repercussions," the complaint states.
The family seeks punitive damages for wrongful death, civil rights violations, failure to train, deliberate indifference, malicious conduct, excessive force, unwarranted use of deadly force, constitutional violations, violations of state laws and pain and suffering.
In the second complaint, Sterling and Sylvia Askew sued the police department, Armstrong and Officers Ned Aufdenkamp and Matthew Dyess for the death of their son Steven.
Steven Askew was sleeping in his car in an apartment parking lot when Aufdenkamp and Dyess woke him up and shot him to death in January 2013, according to the complaint.
"Mr. Askew fell asleep in his vehicle while waiting for his girlfriend to return to her apartment complex," the complaint states.
Aufdenkamp and Dyess approached the vehicle and noticed a handgun in it. Askew did have a gun in his car, "but it is also undisputed that he had a license to carry his weapon and was doing so lawfully on the night he was killed," his parents say.
The officers knocked on the window while shining flashlights into the car, "all of which startled the decedent," the complaint states.
"Seconds after," they began firing, according to the lawsuit.
"Defendants Aufdenkamp and Dyess directed their firearms at Mr. Askew and discharged them multiple times without just cause. A total of twenty-two (22) shots were fired. The decedent suffered from nine gunshot wounds as a direct and proximate result of defendants Aufdenkamp's and Dyess's actions, with six (6) of these gunshot wounds being to his back, two shots to the arm, and one shot in the back of his neck," the complaint states.
All of the windows were shot out except the driver's side window, and Askew "never fired his weapon on the night in question," his parents say.
As usual in Memphis, "defendants City of Memphis and Armstrong determined that defendants Aufdenkamp and Dyess had acted appropriately and in compliance with the policies, practices and customs of the MPD," the complaint states.
But the Askews claim, as the Moores did, that the killing was illegal and unconstitutional.
Both families claim that the city and its police chief have sent a "clear message to police officers that it is acceptable to shoot first and ask questions second."
Both families are represented by Howard B. Manis in Memphis.
Both families seek $3 million plus punitive damages for wrongful death and other charges.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.