- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The mother of a 5-year-old girl killed last year by a stray bullet is suing two Omaha police officers and the city, accusing the officers of planting drugs in a separate case in an effort to frame her.

Tabatha Manning filed the lawsuit Monday in Douglas County District Court. In it, she details being pulled over on Sept. 17, 2013, in north Omaha on suspicion of having a broken taillight. She was arrested on an outstanding misdemeanor warrant for unpaid fines.

When she was removed from the back of the police car, the arresting officers said they found a bag containing a small amount of methamphetamine and determined it was Manning’s.

Manning’s lawsuit accuses the officers of planting the drugs in order to falsely implicate her in a felony crime, violating her constitutional rights. She was charged with possession of a controlled substance.

In January 2014, Manning’s daughter, Payton Benson, was eating breakfast in her home when she was struck by a stray bullet fired from a block away. Five men have been convicted of various charges in the girl’s death and await sentencing.

The drug charge against Manning was dropped following the death of her daughter, but it still made Manning’s attempts to find and keep public housing for her and her children difficult, the lawsuit says.

Manning is seeking an unspecified amount in damages and legal costs. Her attorney, William O’Brien of Omaha, said he filed the lawsuit after getting no response to a claim he filed with the city last year.

O’Brien said Wednesday he does not know what motive police would have to frame Manning for a drug crime.

“I anticipate that in the course of litigation, we’ll take the depositions of the two officers and … have the power to get evidence that we wouldn’t before there was a suit,” he said.

Police officials learned of Manning’s claims only from news accounts this week, Omaha Police spokeswoman Darci Tierney said Wednesday.

“She’s never made those allegations to us,” Tierney said. “If she thinks the officers acted inappropriately, she would need to file a citizen’s complaint, and we’d take a look at it.”

Omaha City Attorney Paul Kratz, who will represent the city and the officers in the lawsuit, said Wednesday neither he nor the police department had yet been served with the lawsuit.

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