Parents of Michael Brown file wrongful death suit

Apr 23, 2015

The parents of Michael Brown filed a wrongful death suit Thursday against the city of Ferguson, former Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson and former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who fatally shot Brown.

Attorney Benjamin Crump pointed to a U.S. Department of Justice report that uncovered racial bias in the Ferguson Police Department.

“We believed that culture existed that forecast something like this would happen in Ferguson, Mo.,” Crump said.

Attorneys for Brown's parents say they’ll present evidence that no one has seen and they argue that deadly force wasn’t necessary based on Wilson’s account of the shooting.

“There is forensic and physical evidence in this case that totally contradicts what we have characterized as a concocted version of events from the very beginning," said attorney Anthony Gray.

Brown’s mother and father attended the announcement but did not make any comments.

Below is audio from the entire press conference.  

The filing of the suit was not unexpected, as attorneys for the family announced their intention to sue last month.

Some early takeaways from the family’s lawsuit include allegations that:

  • Wilson’s use of “aggressive profanity” when he first stopped Brown and Dorian Johnson “caused an unnecessary and unwarranted escalation” and without that profanity Wilson’s interaction with Brown and Johnson “would have been uneventful.”
  • Brown raised his hands and said “Don’t shoot.” In its investigation, the Department of Justice concluded that Brown didn’t say “Don’t shoot” and if he raised his hands it was only momentarily.
  • Wilson said Brown “looked like a demon” or the  “Incredible Hulk” during an initial interview with Ferguson police, and such terminology showed that Wilson saw Brown as “subhuman or animal-like” and was reflective of the “racially-biased mentality and culture” of Ferguson and its police.

The suit

  • Asks the court to consider the family’s loss as well as the cost of “medical treatment for psychological damages in an amount in excess” of $75,000. (This is the only dollar amount included in the suit.)
  • Asks for an order requiring Ferguson to stop police practices “that demean, disregard or underserve” African Americans.
  • Asks for monitoring of Ferguson’s use of force practices for five years or until the court finds that Ferguson has “fully and effectually trained all of its police officers on the constitutional requirements of the use of deadly force.”

The seven counts are

  • Count 1 (against Wilson) alleges that Wilson violated Brown of his civil rights through unlawful detention, use of excessive deadly force and deprivation of liberty without due process and equal protection.
  • Count 2 (against City of Ferguson and Jackson) alleges that Ferguson and Jackson were negligent in hiring, supervising and training police officers in the use of force and failed to “conduct fair and impartial investigations.”
  • Count 3 (against Jackson) alleges that Jackson permitted or promoted a pattern and practice of excessive force at the Ferguson Police Department and that Brown’s death was “directly and proximately caused by the failures” of Jackson.
  • Count 4 (against City of Ferguson and Wilson) alleges that Wilson and Ferguson as his employer unconstitutionally stopped Brown and used excessive force against him, violating the 4th and 14 amendments.
  • Count 5 (against City of Ferguson) alleges that the city engaged in a pattern and practice of unreasonable stops and excessive force, violating the 4th and 14th amendments.
  • Count 6 (against Wilson) alleges that Wilson deprived Michael Brown’s parents of their right to a relationship with their son, violating the due process clause of the 14th amendment.
  • Count 7 (against City of Ferguson) alleges that the city deprived Brown’s parents of their right to a relationship with their son through a pattern and practice of excessive force and by “failing to properly hire, train and supervise Ferguson officers.”

The full court filing is below:

The family announced its intent to file suit shortly after the Justice Department released reports that included the finding that Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson did not violate Michael Brown's civil rights when he shot and killed the young man.

In an earlier article by St. Louis Public Radio's Rachel Lippmann, local attorney Anthony Gray said, "In our case, we plan to show and outline pretty much the same evidence. However, you'll get a much clearer picture, a more accurate picture, of what took place that day."

That article also explained the difference between a criminal and civil case:

Wrongful death lawsuits are not uncommon, especially in high profile cases. Such suits give victims' families a path for legal recourse, even without criminal charges. Their main appeal is that they're easier to win, said Chuck Henson, a professor at the University of Missouri School of Law.

Criminal convictions require that familiar standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt," Henson said. "A jury is informed that they effectively have to be so certain that they would rely on their conclusions for a major decision in their own life."

By contrast, he said, civil cases require only a preponderance of the evidence — "the mere tipping of the scales." That's how it was possible for O.J. Simpson to be forced to pay $40 million to the families of his ex-wife and her friend even though a jury found him not guilty of murder using the same evidence.