Crime & Courts

Lawsuit seeks $5 million over shooting by Wichita officers, alleges widespread problems

Police officers investigate a shooting in the 2300 block of West Graber on Feb. 25, 2014.
Police officers investigate a shooting in the 2300 block of West Graber on Feb. 25, 2014. File photo

The wife of a reportedly suicidal man who survived being shot 16 times by Wichita police is suing the city and five officers for $5 million, blaming the shooting for the man’s eventual suicide.

The 39-page lawsuit complaint also lays out a detailed criticism of the Police Department’s handling of officer shootings in general. In a four-page statement released to media Thursday hours after the lawsuit was filed, the lawyers bringing the suit said Wichita police officers have shot at least 29 people since 2010, killing 13.

“The enormous number of police shootings by the Wichita Police Department is extremely abnormal for a city the size of Wichita and shows an unwritten de facto policy of unnecessarily using deadly force,” said the statement by attorneys James A. Thompson and Donald Snook. They have two other ongoing wrongful-death lawsuits against Wichita police in federal court.

The lawsuit contends that police shootings “remain cloaked in secrecy with the shooting files made part of the WPD secret confidential records file recently disclosed by media. Current and past leadership at the City implemented a pattern and practice of concealing and covering up misconduct by its officers and leadership.”

City Manager Robert Layton said Tuesday that he is having the city attorney review use of a restricted-access file that is known by insiders as the “confidential file” – to determine if it was used inappropriately.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Wichita on Wednesday night on behalf of Michlle Richard, wife of Stacy Richard, accuses the officers of violating her 45-year-old husband’s constitutional rights through “unreasonable use of deadly force.” The lawsuit also accuses the officers of violating training and policies by needlessly escalating the situation and putting themselves in a spot where they thought they had to shoot Richard.

In the shooting, on Feb. 25, 2014, “Stacy Richard suffered 16 gunshot wounds to his body and initially he physically survived the shooting,” the lawsuit says. “However, the emotional and physical toll of the shooting resulted in Stacy Richard taking his life 8 months after he was shot.”

City Attorney Jennifer Magana said late Thursday that she couldn’t comment on the lawsuit at this point.

In ‘severe mental crisis’

Richard worked at Spirit AeroSystems. Thompson described him as a “normal, middle-class, hard-working guy … a family guy.” But Richard suffered from severe clinical depression and was “in severe mental crisis and needed help when he was shot 16 times in his home” by officers Bruce Mackey, Matthew Phillips, William Stevens and Brian Arterburn, the lawsuit says. The wife is also suing Michael O’Brien, who was the police supervisor at the scene.

The Police Department has officers who are specially trained to de-escalate situations involving mentally ill people.

Although the department has recognized that cases involving the mentally ill have been rising and that officers would encounter more people in mental health crises, “WPD leadership failed to properly train and supervise its officers to deal with the mentally ill,” the lawsuit says.

Of the 24 shooting incidents since 2010, 10 involved someone in a mental health crisis, and of those 10, eight resulted in a death.

A frantic situation

On the day of the shooting, Richard’s therapist told 911 that he was suicidal and in his house with a gun, the lawsuit says.

Instead of “securing a perimeter and de-escalating the situation as policy and training dictate,” the officers tried to “enter and clear the residence within five minutes of arriving on scene even though they knew Stacy was alone and not an imminent danger to the officers or others,” the lawsuit says.

When someone is suicidal and no threat to others, the best way to handle the situation “is to slow things down and not rush into the house,” the lawsuit says.

Under department policy, the first arriving officers are supposed to cordon off the area and call SWAT and a negotiator, the lawsuit says. The “passage of time tends to calm a person down and make it easier to convince them that they are doing something wrong.”

Richard suffered a mental health crisis brought on by severe clinical depression and alcohol, the lawsuit says.

It gives this account: Richard told his wife, Michlle, that he was going to shoot himself. She called his therapist and said her husband was suicidal and had a gun. The therapist immediately called 911. The dispatcher was told that the wife was the only person in the home with her husband and that no one was injured. The therapist told police that Richard was a threat only to himself.

As directed by 911, the wife moved to the doorway so she could leave, and emergency dispatchers sent police to the home, saying there was a suicidal person locked in his bedroom with a shotgun to his head. At one point, police removed the wife from the doorway. She told police that her children were at school.

One of the officers told another “to bring bunkers to the scene with the intent of breaching the residence rather than waiting for SWAT or a negotiator as police,” which would be the standard police practice, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit describes a frantic situation at the house, including an officer’s accidentally discharging his gun. One officer trapped in a hallway was angry, and another officer told him to breathe.

One of the officers tried to speak to Richard, who was allegedly lying on a couch with a gun in his hand. Richard allegedly pointed the gun at officers, “who open fire,” the lawsuit says.

Mackey, Arterburn, Stevens and Phillips are on video firing more than 40 rounds at Richard, striking him 16 times with 9mm hollow-point bullets, it says.

“Stacy can be seen rolling back and forth as the bullets strike him,” wounding him from his head to his lower legs. He screamed out in pain and never fired, it says.

Some of the officers’ bullets hit a neighbor’s house.

None of the officers who entered the home were trained to handle what is known as a “critical incident team” (CIT) situation, and although they knew it called for CIT officers, none of them requested someone with that training, the lawsuit says. Only one of the officers had SWAT training.

As a result of the shooting, Richard had medical bills of more than $400,000.

Richard recovered some but lived in constant pain and fear of being charged with felony assault on an officer, the lawsuit says.

He “sank deeper and deeper” into depression and committed suicide by hanging himself in his garage in October 2014, eight months after the shooting.

Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or tpotter@wichitaeagle.com.

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