Judge: Parents Cannot Sue Police Chief

Posted June 20, 2011 at 6:33pm

The parents of a 27-year-old man slain by Capitol Police officers in 2009 cannot sue Chief Phillip Morse or the department for financial damages as part of their $50 million lawsuit, a judge has ruled.

Nevertheless, the court will allow the case to proceed against two individual officers who allegedly shot and killed Kellen White one block north of the Hart Senate Office Building.

In a January motion to dismiss, the Capitol Police said that federal agencies acting in their official capacity are not subject to federal tort claims and that they should instead be filed against the United States.

Last week, U.S. District Judge John Bates agreed, ruling in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that because they are being sued in their official capacities, Morse and the department are immune to demands for compensation.

White, of Brandywine, Md., led police on a car chase near the Capitol in July 2009, police said. Officers shot him as he exited the vehicle, and he later died at the hospital.

Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said at the time that White had tried to run over two officers with his car, crashed into a police cruiser and fired an assault weapon at officers. Schneider last week declined to comment for this article, citing Capitol Police policy not to speak publicly about pending litigation.

In the lawsuit filed in August, White’s parents allege that their son was not armed and his slaying resulted from excessive use of force by the police, who they say shot him more than 12 times. It was the first time Capitol Police officers had discharged their weapons in almost 11 years.

Leroy and Thomasine White will be permitted to sue Richard Greenwell and Matthew Shelfo, the two officers who allegedly shot White, as well as other unnamed officers, for use of excessive and deadly force, wrongful death, assault and battery and deprivation of constitutional rights.

Greenwell and Shelfo remain on active duty, according to Capitol Police salary records. They will probably continue to be represented by Justice Department lawyers.

The Whites also allege in their complaint that Morse and his officers conspired to deprive their son, who was black, of his civil rights and defame him by claiming after the shooting that he was armed.

Citing the long-running racial discrimination case of more than 200 black officers against the Capitol Police, they say the department has established “a pattern and practice of depriving African-Americans of their constitutional rights through the unreasonable use of excessive force.”

In his June 14 memorandum opinion, however, Bates held that the plaintiffs failed to prove that Morse and his officers colluded to violate White’s civil rights.

“Plaintiffs clearly state that these … claims are based upon a conspiracy, and yet they fail to allege any facts showing that there was ever any agreement,” Bates wrote. “Plaintiff’s only support for this allegation is alleged internal discrimination within the [Capitol Police]. … Such internal discrimination, however, is irrelevant to any alleged conspiracy to discriminate against outside parties, such as White.”

A lawyer for the Whites did not return a request for comment.