A federal judge has ordered the city of Wichita and its legal defense team to pay a sanction for an “inexcusable” delay in providing thousands of pages of documents in a lawsuit over a fatal shooting by a police officer.
Still in dispute is the amount the city’s legal team will pay as a sanction. The two sides are supposed to agree on a “reasonable” amount. Lawyers bringing the lawsuit against the city have asked for $9,762, based on their time spent arguing the issue and preparing for a hearing. The attorney defending the city is contending the sanction should be considerably less – $2,959.38.
The sanction over not providing some documents on time is one of the latest actions in an ongoing civil rights lawsuit filed by Dawn Herington, mother of Troy Lanning II. Her 24-year-old son died in 2012 after he was shot by Officer Randy Williamson, who is no longer with the Wichita Police Department. The lawsuit claims include “excessive force, the failure to provide proper training on the use of deadly force, and the failure to supervise.”
On Sept 1., U.S. Magistrate Judge Kenneth Gale said the city and its attorney “were aware of the documents months before they were provided” to the mother’s attorneys. The circumstances don’t show “bad faith,” Gale wrote in his order. “There is no evidence that the omissions were intentional. … Even so, the Court finds the omissions are inexcusable.”
On Thursday, Steve Pigg, the private attorney hired to defend the city in the lawsuit, told The Eagle: “This is solely my fault in not getting the records to the other side on time. It’s not the city’s. The city provided them to me. My firm’s going to pay for it, whatever the sanction is, and we’ve informed the city of that. It’s my mistake, so the city shouldn’t have to pay for it.”
Also Thursday, James Thompson, one of the two attorneys bringing the lawsuit against the city, said of the judge’s decision: “We took our concerns to Judge Gale, and he found they were valid and punished the city accordingly.”
In June, an attorney working with Thompson, Donald Snook, filed a motion seeking sanctions. Starting in September 2014, the plaintiff’s lawyers began seeking documents from the city including its policies on use of force and officer-shooting investigations. They also sought documents on Officer Williamson, his use of force and reviews of his use of force.
Snook contended that the city “has exhibited a pattern and practice of discovery abuses in a number of cases.” As an example, Snook said the city had withheld 4,000 pages of documents in another excessive-force case that it was now using to attack the credibility of a plaintiff’s expert in the Williamson shooting.
Pigg, the lawyer defending the city in the shooting by Williamson, disagreed. Pigg said the city had reason to challenge the expert.
In a court document defending the city, Pigg said, “No sanction is appropriate.”
Although the city didn’t provide some internal affairs documents on time, all relevant documents were given on time, Pigg said.
All documents involving the shooting of Lanning were provided, he wrote. “Documents were never hidden.”
Pigg said in the document that he regretted the mistake in not handing over some files earlier, adding, “Counsel has instituted internal office procedures to prevent any recurrence. This is the first motion for sanctions effectively directed at defendant’s counsel in 40 years of practice.”
More than four years after it happened, the shooting of Lanning remains unresolved.
According to court documents or police accounts, Williamson shot Lanning six times after police responded to a report of a possible drive-by shooting and after Lanning allegedly ran from a vehicle after a high-speed chase. Williamson chased Lanning on foot and shot him after Lanning allegedly reached into a bag.
Lanning was unarmed, according to the lawsuit.
District Attorney Marc Bennett has left open the question of whether the shooting was justified, saying it remains an open investigation.
After working 10 years as a Wichita police officer, Williamson left the department in 2013. His leaving came after prosecutors accused him of firing shots that damaged a south Wichita building while he was on duty. The building shooting occurred in September 2012, five months after he shot Lanning. Prosecutors also alleged that he falsely reported a crime, apparently about the building incident.
Police said that Williamson fired several times, that he said someone acting suspiciously appeared ready to fire at him with a rifle or shotgun. Investigators found no evidence that anyone shot at him.
Williamson entered what is known as an Alford plea, meaning he accepted a plea offer without admitting guilt. It reduced his criminal-damage-to-property charge from a felony to a misdemeanor. The plea also included a misdemeanor charge of falsely reporting a crime.
Patrick Mitchell, Williamson’s attorney in the building case, said that when Williamson allegedly shot at the building, he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, as a result of the fatal Lanning shooting months earlier.