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Saturday, May 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Minn. Police Face Trial Over Fatal Shooting

St. PAUL, Minn. (CN) - As protesters rallied over the recent shooting of an unarmed black man, a federal judge advanced civil claims over a 2012 police shooting to trial.

It was May 12, 2012, a day before Mother's Day, when Minneapolis police responded to an apartment after receiving reports of a domestic dispute.

Though DelShawn Crawford's family conceded in their federal complaint that Crawford was holding a knife while he argued with his girlfriend, Brandy Lewis, they insist that Crawford had put the knife down and that the argument had subsided by the time police arrived.

Furthermore, "Crawford never made verbal threats, nor did he motion to threaten anyone with the knife," the complaint states.

Police nevertheless shot their way through the front door, killing Crawford while he stood unarmed in the living room, and narrowly missing a 4-year-old asleep on the couch, according to the complaint.

Though police tell a different story - claiming that Crawford opened the door and lunged at them with the knife - U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank declined Monday to grant them summary judgment.

Police officers Laura Turner claims that she fired her weapon while retreating away from Crawford down the stairs. Officer Chad Meyer fired between three and seven shots.

Though the officers characterized their conduct as "objectively reasonable," Frank said a jury must decide whether it amounted to excessive force or unreasonable seizure.

"If the factfinder were to determine that the officers believed that Crawford was holding a knife and that Crawford lunged at the Officers in the confined landing of the apartment stairs, the use of deadly force might be determined to be objectively reasonable," Frank wrote. "However, the surrounding circumstances and facts are disputed."

The wrongful-death claim hinges on whether the officers "willfully" committed a wrongful act, according to the ruling.

"Usually, the question of willfulness is a question of fact to be resolved by the jury," the opinion states.

Frank ended the decision by warning the parties that the trial could still end with a victory for the police.

"While fact issues exist, there appear to be considerable discrepancies in B. Lewis's testimony and that of other witnesses," Frank wrote. "These discrepancies will likely make it very difficult for plaintiffs to prevail at trial. If the officers' version of the facts is believed, plaintiffs' claims will fail."

J. Ashwin Madia, an attorney for Crawford's family, said he hopes to reach a settlement ahead of the trial scheduled for January.

There will be a settlement conference Friday, but past conversations have not indicated harmony, Madia added.

"We have talked briefly in anticipation of this settlement conference, and it seems clear that, at least right now, the parties view this case very differently," Madia said in a phone interview.

Madia added that he would be "grateful" for the opportunity to have a jury hear the case.

Tracey Fussy with the Minneapolis City Attorney's Office is listed as lead counsel for the officers. She said she was not allowed to comment on the case and directed queries to Susan Segal, the Minneapolis city attorney.

Segal was in a meeting when called for comment and has not yet returned a message left with her secretary.

The ruling in Crawford's case comes just one day after the death of 24-year-old Jamar Clark has spurred protests across Minneapolis.

Editor's Note: After this article ran, Minneapolis city attorney Susan Segal called Thursday and expressed confidence the city will prevail.

"These situations are tragic, you know, all the way around, but we are very confident that the officers acted appropriately," Segal said, declining to comment on the likelihood of a settlement.

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