- Associated Press - Thursday, September 24, 2015

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) - The mother of a 23-year-old man killed by police in Virginia filed a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit in state court on Thursday.

Kawanza Jamal Beaty was fatally shot about 2 a.m. July 4. Newport News police have said Beaty was carrying a sawed-off shotgun and ignored police calls to drop the weapon after a foot chase.

Police have said the three officers who responded believed Beaty was raising the shotgun toward one of them when one of them fired at him, striking him in the head. The shotgun later was found to be unloaded and reported stolen.

The lawsuit filed Thursday by Melisa Dargan says the shooting was unprovoked and gratuitous in nature.

“The actions of all the officers were grossly negligent,” the lawsuit says.



The lawsuit names the city, police Chief Richard Myers and Officer Randy Gibson as defendants. Gibson was involved in a previous shooting in 2012 that left an unarmed man paralyzed. There’s currently a lawsuit pending in federal court from that incident.

Gibson’s attorney in that case, James Cales, declined to comment on the current lawsuit or identify Gibson’s race. Beaty was black. The lawsuit does not mention race as a factor.

Newport News Police declined to comment on pending litigation.

Attorney James Ellenson, who is representing Beaty’s family, has repeatedly called into question the police version of events the night of the shooting. Ellenson has questioned why Beaty was shot from behind and continues to express frustration that police have provided few details from their investigation into the shooting.

The lawsuit accused the police department and the city of operating a culture in which officers can use force with impunity.

“Myers actually knew that Gibson had shot somebody before for no good reason, and nevertheless allowed Gibson to still be a police officer and to carry a gun,” the lawsuit says.

Ellenson said he decided to file the case in state court instead of federal court in an effort to go to trial sooner. Ellenson also said he might have waited longer for the official investigation into the shooting to be completed before filing a lawsuit had Gibson not been involved in a previous shooting.

“It’s sort of like the dog-bite cases. You know, a dog’s allowed one bite. But it’s the second time the dog bites - then you think maybe there’s something wrong with the dog,” he said. “I think that might be applicable in this situation.”

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Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis

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