TOPEKA, Kan. — Two Topeka police officers who fatally shot a Black man as he fled from them after a struggle that revealed he was armed have been removed from a federal lawsuit accusing them of using excessive force.
A second count in the lawsuit brought by the family of Dominique White, which contends the city failed to train its police officers adequately, continues to move forward. A trial date hasn’t been set.
U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree on Monday described the case as “particularly difficult,” but that it wasn’t clearly established that Officers Justin Mackey and Michael Cruse violated the 30-year-old White’s Fourth Amendment right protecting him from excessive force, The Topeka Capital-Journal reports. The officers remain employed by the police force.
The ruling was made on the three-year anniversary of White’s fatal shooting near a Topeka park. His death certificate says he died primarily from gunshots in the back.
The officers were responding to a report of gunfire in the area in September 2017 when they confronted White, who they discovered during a struggle was armed.
Police body camera footage shows White fleeing from the officers before he was shot. Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay ruled earlier that the shooting was justified, saying White moved his hand over a pocket that contained a gun as he fled. An internal police investigation concluded that Mackey and Cruse had committed no policy violations.
“Unlike other cases where officers learned later that the suspect wasn’t armed, the officers here actually knew Mr. White had a gun in his pocket,” Crabtree wrote Monday. “Officer Mackey saw the gun in Mr. White’s pocket, and Officer Cruse later recovered it (along with additional magazines) from Mr. White’s pocket. Mr. White resisted the officers’ attempts to secure the weapon, and he ignored their commands to lie down and stop. Instead, Mr. White struggled against the officers’ attempts to secure the firearm, he broke free from them, and he ran away while armed with a gun in his pocket.”
But White’s family said the body camera footage shows he wasn’t an immediate threat to the officers. An attorney for White’s family, Andrew Stroth, said Tuesday that they were reviewing Crabtree’s ruling and would pursue all available legal options.
“Similar to other young Black males in America, Dominique White was unjustifiably killed by the police,” said Stroth, the managing director of the Chicago-based civil rights law firm Action Injury Law Group. “In this case, the two officers working within the scope of their employment with the Topeka Police Department tragically and without provocation killed Dominique.”
City of Topeka media relations coordinator Molly Hadfield on Tuesday released a one-sentence statement.
“The court found that the law was not clearly established that Mr. White’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated under the circumstances of this case, and that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity,” the city said.