- Associated Press - Thursday, September 10, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - A black man fatally shot when a police officer and a security guard opened fire after he fled a traffic stop was unarmed, and thus police contentions that he shot at the officer are “patently false,” a federal lawsuit filed Thursday alleges.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Donte Sowell’s fiance includes allegations of excessive force, conspiracy to deprive Sowell of his constitutional rights, false arrest and denial of medical attention. It names the city of Indianapolis, its police department and several other defendants.

Police have said an officer and a security guard opened fire on the 27-year-old Sowell Jan. 15 after the Indianapolis man, who was a passenger in car driven by his brother, fled on foot from a traffic stop and began shooting at a pursuing officer.

The lawsuit contends Sowell “was unarmed and posed no threat to anyone” and said the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department concocted the story that he had fired shots at officers.

“On the night of the shooting, IMPD spokespersons relayed to the media that Mr. Sowell had shot at police officers, thus justifying the defendant officers’ conduct within hours of its occurrence. That justification was patently false,” the lawsuit said.

It says those police statements were made “before a proper investigation could take place.”

Indianapolis police spokesman Lt. Rick Riddle declined to answer questions Thursday about Sowell’s shooting, citing the litigation. The city of Indianapolis’ corporation counsel, Doug Kowalski, declined to comment on the complaint, saying he had not yet read it.

The suit was filed on behalf of Rachel Long, who was Sowell’s fiance and is the mother of two of his four children, including a daughter born last month. Long said she was devastated by his death.

“Lord knows, I wish you were here to see and be a part of your children’s‘ lives today. Our love for you is ongoing,” she said at a news conference in a church filled with relatives and friends.

The lawsuit requests a jury trial and seeks unspecified damages and attorney’s fees and costs and a court finding ordering the city to release “any recordings” of Sowell’s interaction with the officer, security guard and others at the time of his shooting.

Long’s Chicago-based attorneys, Matt Topic and Ruth Brown, said Indianapolis police have refused to release to the family police reports, officer statements, ballistics tests, radio transmissions and any video footage that might exist of Sowell’s shooting.

“The idea that we should simply accept without question, and without evidence, the claims by the police department on what happened is not the way things work in a democracy,” Topic said.

Brown said the attorneys have “multiple witnesses” who will provide statements that Sowell was not armed and had surrendered to authorities. Police “have never produced any objective evidence linking him to a weapon,” she said.

At the time of the shooting, Sowell was wanted on an arrest warrant for a probation violation, but Brown said it may never be known why Sowell ran from his brother’s car.

An autopsy report released by the family shows Sowell was shot six times, twice in the back, one of which caused extensive damage to his internal organs.

Hours after Sowell’s shooting, Indianapolis police released a statement saying he had fired “unprovoked” at the officer, that the officer and a security guard in the area both opened fire on Sowell, and “an intense firefight ensued.”

The suit also alleges officers did not provide the “gravely wounded” Sowell with any medical attention after calling for an ambulance. He died at a hospital.

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