Family’s lawsuit alleges authorities used excessive force in shooting Ottawa teenager to death in 2014

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OTTAWA, Kan. -- The family of a Kansas teenager is suing the officers involved in his shooting death. A lawsuit alleges Franklin County sheriff’s deputies and Ottawa police officers used excessive force when they shot 18-year-old Joseph Jennings in August of 2014.

The 23-page lawsuit claims authorities knew Jennings suffered from mental illness and failed to use crisis intervention techniques to help the troubled teen before they shot and killed him.

“I was screaming at the top of my lungs ‘don`t shoot him, don`t shoot him,’” Jennings’ aunt Brandy Smith said.

Two years ago, Smith told FOX 4 how she witnessed police shoot and kill her nephew despite her repeated pleas to allow her to calm him down.

“They knew who he was. They knew his mental state. They dealt with him not even 24 hours prior to this incident,” Smith said.

On the night of August 23, 2014 police say Jennings called 911 to report a man in a parking lot waving a gun, but police say Jennings was actually describing himself, but didn`t tell that to the 911 dispatcher.

When police arrived the lawsuit claims three of the 10 police officers knew Jennings because they took him to the hospital the night before when the tired to kill himself.

“They show up at the scene address him by his name Joseph. They tell him you`re not in any trouble, just show us your hands because he was pacing calmly back and forth, but he has his left hand in his waist band,” said Robert Bjerg, the family’s attorney.

Bjerg says Jennings wasn`t threatening police, but he didn`t respond to the officers’ commands. Bjerg says police shot Jennings with bean bags and that`s when Jennings removed his hands from his waist and pointed at the officers.

“The police after the incident say they saw a black object in his hand and they believed it to be a handgun, then they fired and shot him,” Bjerg said.

Bjerg says the officers fired 29 shots and nine bullets struck Jennings, killing him.

“When you're dealing with someone who is mentally disturbed it requires specialized training,” Bjerg said.

Bjerg says he hopes the lawsuit will help change how police use conflict intervention tactics. The lawsuit is also seeking damages in excess of $75,000.

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