SEATTLE – A federal judge has refused to dismiss a civil-rights lawsuit filed against the city of Kent and a police officer involved in the shooting of Giovanni Joseph-McDade.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein questioned whether the officer had reason to fear for his life or the public safety when the fatal shots were fired, the Seattle Times reported.
In a 15-page order issued Thursday, Rothstein said the evidence disputes claims that 20-year-old Joseph-McDade fled from police at high speed and was poised to drive into Kent police Officer William Davis in his car when Davis fired into Joseph-McDade’s car.
Rothstein’s order sends the lawsuit, filed in 2020 by Joseph-McDade’s parents, to trial.
“There is no suggestion in this case that Joseph-McDade had committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm prior to the car chase,” Rothstein wrote, noting that Kent Officer Matthew Rausch had initially stopped Joseph-McDade early on June 24, 2017, in the parking lot of a Kent convenience store for having an expired registration. The officer said he focused on the car containing three young Black men, because one of them “appeared startled” when he saw the officer and exited the car.
Rausch called for backup, classifying the call as “priority 2,” meaning there was little or no threat. Davis responded, according to police reports.
Joseph-McDade, with a passenger, drove away from Rausch. Rausch said he immediately pursued and unsuccessfully tried a maneuver intended to make Joseph-McDade lose control of his car, according to court filings and police reports. The maneuver can be considered a use of deadly force, which Joseph-McDade’s lawyers argue wasn’t warranted for having an expired registration.
Joseph-McDade drove slowly into a cul-de-sac with the two police cars behind him, according to court files. When he stopped, Davis exited his car, drew his handgun and stepped in front of Joseph-McDade’s car, where he ordered the two men out of the vehicle.
Davis fired two rounds into the car after – he later said – he heard Joseph-McDade’s engine “rev up” and the car “launch directly” at him. Rausch rammed his police cruiser into Joseph-McDade’s car. According to testimony and video, Joseph-McDade drove slowly past the officers, out of the cul-de-sac, then stopped. One bullet struck him in the chest. He died at the scene.
Rothstein said there is no evidence that Joseph-McDade posed a threat to police or the public even during the chase, when he mostly drove below the speed limit.
Telephone calls and emails seeking comment on the order from the lawyer representing Kent and the officers were not immediately returned Friday.
The judge also noted a Des Moines police report that says the rounds entered the windshield from an angle, indicating Davis was not in front of the car when he fired.
The passenger in Joseph-McDade’s car, Devonte Cheeks, said in sworn testimony that his friend was driving slow and trying to weave around the police cars when he was shot.
Rothstein dismissed Rausch from the civil-rights claim.
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