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Family of woman shot by police sues city, officers

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, Sep. 17, 2013, at 7:13 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Sep. 18, 2013, at 11:37 a.m.

The family of Karen L. Jackson, a Wichita woman killed by police last summer, sued the city of Wichita on Tuesday, along with two officers they say killed her.

Jackson, a 45-year-old with mental problems, died July 10, 2012, after two Wichita officers shot her in front of her estranged husband’s house.

Officers fired after she walked quickly toward the officers with a knife, stabbing herself and calling out “shoot me,” police said at the time. She died later that night.

The lawsuit names officers Elizabeth Martin and Bryan Knowles as defendants, along with the Police Department and the city. The plaintiffs are the dead woman’s estranged husband, Derrick Jackson, and two of her adult children, Tyra Williams and Earnest Day.

Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett cleared the officers of criminal wrongdoing in January. But people have the right to sue in civil court even after officers have been cleared of criminal wrongdoing.

The officers went to the home in the 700 block of North Spruce to settle a domestic dispute between the couple after Derrick Jackson called 911 that night. The officers believed Karen Jackson “posed an imminent threat” to their lives and safety, Bennett said in a report filed in the case, and the officers fired after Jackson repeatedly ignored orders to stop and drop the knife.

But the family, including Williams, said days after Jackson was shot that she was so disabled from longtime leg and back ailments that there was no way she could have walked quickly toward the officers in a threatening manner. Williams said Jackson didn’t have the strength to pick up her small grandchildren.

Wichita lawyer James Thompson, who filed the lawsuit, said that from November 2010 through July 2012 Wichita police shot 16 people, killing seven of them. He said the number of shootings “shows an unwritten de facto policy of unnecessarily using deadly force.”

City spokesman Van Williams said it’s the city’s policy not to comment on pending lawsuits.

The lawsuit said that Jackson had a long history of bipolar disorder, and that Wichita police had taken her to Via Christi Hospital on Harry’s psychiatric ward on at least three occasions before the shooting. Thompson said she was listed in the police computers as a person with mental problems.

“Consequently, the defendant city of Wichita was already on notice that Karen Jackson was mentally ill,” Thompson wrote.

The department has specially trained Crisis Intervention Team officers assigned to deal appropriately with cases such as hers, according to Thompson. The police policy manual, Thompson wrote, says those trained officers are the “preferred response to all calls involving mental health crisis.” Instead, two armed officers approached her, and the night ended with her dead, he wrote.

Thompson also wrote in the lawsuit that police regulations spell out when the use of a firearm is not justified. Standard police protocol, Thompson wrote in the lawsuit, “calls for one officer to draw their service weapon while the other officer draws their Taser; thereby allowing the officer to use non-lethal force but maintain the option of lethal force if the non-lethal force is unsuccessful.”

Bennett’s report said that when the two officers approached the house on Spruce, they saw Karen Jackson emerge with a bottle of whiskey, a beer can, a fire igniter and a “large butcher knife” under her arm.

Jackson ignored commands from the male officer, who had drawn his gun, to drop the knife, the report said. She instead dropped the liquor containers and moved forward “at a steady pace,” swinging the knife, police said shortly after the shooting. Then she stabbed herself several times and yelled for police to shoot her, according to police.

Contributing: Hurst Laviana

Reach Roy Wenzl at 316-268-6219 or rwenzl@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @roywenzl.

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