ST. LOUIS (CN) — The mother of Kajieme Powell, whose shooting death at the hands of two St. Louis police officers after the Michael Brown shooting sparked additional protests, sued the officers, the city and police chief for wrongful death Wednesday.
Powell, who was schizophrenic and had a knife, grabbed two cans of soda and a doughnut from a convenience store and left without paying, then paced in front of the store, mumbling to himself.
St. Louis police Officers Thomas Shelton and Ellis Brown responded when a store employee called to report Powell’s behavior. According to Karen Powell’s federal lawsuit, Shelton and Brown left their vehicle with guns drawn, which agitated Powell, who walked toward them, saying, “Shoot me, shoot me.”
They shot him repeatedly and handcuffed him after he was dead, his mother says. It was Aug. 19, 2014, just 10 days after Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer in nearby Ferguson. Brown’s killing set off often-violent protests and brought the issues of racism and excessive police force against African-Americans into the national and world conversations.
On Wednesday, Kim Powell sued the City of St. Louis, then-Police Chief Sam Dotson and Shelton and Brown.
No one in the St. Louis City Counselor’s Office was available for comment late Wednesday afternoon.
“I think it’s pretty clear that they had a number of options rather than pulling out their guns and start shooting,” Powell’s attorney Jermaine Wooten said in an interview Wednesday.
“They had their vehicle as defense; they could have pepper sprayed him. There were a number of citizens out there who didn’t feel any threat from Mr. Powell. They were out there laughing and videotaping him.”
Wooten said that Brown had taken crisis intervention training, to instruct him on how to deal with people with mental illness, such as Kajieme Powell.
“It was perfectly clear that they were dealing with someone with mental illness,” Wooten said. “They had a call about someone wielding a knife. They should have pre-planned on how to deal with the situation. Clearly they did not.”
Then-St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Jennifer Joyce declined to press criminal charges against the officers.
The burden of proof is lower in a civil lawsuit than in criminal proceedings. For example, though Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown, was not charged criminally, Brown’s family settled its wrongful death suit against Ferguson for $1.5 million.
Wooten said that given the atmosphere after the Brown shooting that the officers should have even been vigilant.
“At the very worst case, they could have Tased him, but I think they could have just talked to him calmly and got the knife from him,” Wooten said. “He (Kajieme Powell) did not need to go to jail that day, he needed to go to a mental hospital and he would have, if Brown had followed the crisis intervention training.
“The family felt if we could get a successful verdict here, we could stop police shootings across the country. We are looking for a significant verdict.”