Family of Black man shot by Kansas City police sues for $10M
KANSAS CITY, Mo.—The family of a Black man who was shot and killed by a White Kansas City police officer in 2020 is suing the officer and the Board of Police Commissioners for at least $10 million.
The federal lawsuit filed March 10 by Donnie Sanders’ family accuses the officer, Blayne Newton, of using excessive force when he shot Mr. Sanders on March 12, 2020. It also accuses the board, which oversees the Kansas City Police Department, of not properly training or disciplining officers in the use of deadly force, The Kansas City Star reported.
Mr. Sanders’ death is one of the prominent cases in Kansas City involving Black people cited by civil rights activists when pushing for changes to the Police Department.
Off. Newton shot Mr. Sanders, 47, three times after he followed Mr. Sanders’ vehicle into an alley. Mr. Sanders parked the vehicle and ran, with Newton chasing him, police have said.
Police dashcam video records Off. Newton yelling commands at Mr. Sanders to stop and show his hands but the video does not capture the shooting. Kansas City police were not wearing body cameras at the time but have since begun doing so.
Off. Newton told investigators he believed he saw a gun in Mr. Sanders’ hand. No weapon was found; investigators said Mr. Sanders had only a cellphone in his jacket pocket.
Two witnesses reported they saw Off. Newton walking backward while yelling commands as Mr. Sanders approached with his arm extended.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, citing an investigation by Kansas City police and the Missouri State Highway Patrol, determined last year that the witnesses’ statements collaborated Off. Newton’s account that he shot Mr. Sanders because he was afraid for his life.
Off. Newton was not charged and returned to work as a patrol officer. He underwent another review after witnesses said he put his knee on the back of a Black woman who was on the ground during an arrest—another case that sparked protests.
Alabama prison guard charged with assaulting inmate who died
MONTGOMERY, Ala.—An Alabama corrections officer has been charged with using excessive force against an inmate who later died, the state prison system has announced. Lt. Mohammad Jenkins was arrested March 9 on a charge of second-degree assault, the Alabama Department of Corrections wrote in a news release.
The prison system said an investigation found evidence that Mr. Jenkins used excessive force against inmate Victor Russo during an altercation on Feb. 16. Mr. Russo died in a Birmingham hospital on Feb. 25, two days after being found unresponsive in his cell. Mr. Jenkins resigned from the Donaldson Correctional Facility after his arrest.
The Jefferson County Coroner’s Office reported in February that Mr. Russo had suffered apparent blunt force trauma, but it was unclear whether that caused his death. His cellmate had reported Mr. Russo had passed out, the prison system said in February.
The department said March 10 that the death remains under investigation.
The U.S. Department of Justice in 2020 filed a lawsuit against Alabama accusing the state of failing to protect male inmates.
Aurora man sues police for alleged excessive force
AURORA, Ill.—An Aurora man is suing the city and two police officers for an allegedly violent run-in with law enforcement that started with a simple traffic stop.
George Gutierrez was driving to his sister’s house in Aurora on April 26, 2020, when he was stopped for a minor traffic violation, according to police records and a lawsuit that he filed last year in federal court.
The suit alleges that the police pulled him over under the pretext of a minor traffic violation, extended what should have been a routine stop after learning about his criminal background, and then used excessive force while arresting him.
An attorney representing the city disputed Mr. Gutierrez’s claims in an interview with Injustice Watch and said the officers involved in the incident thought that they were in danger. And a spokesperson for the Aurora Police Department said the officers’ conduct in the incident complied with the department’s use of force policy.
But the organizers and residents in Aurora who have rallied around Mr. Gutierrez say his case illustrates how some cops in the department leverage minor traffic violations to stop and search Latinx and Black motorists and how those encounters with police can endanger community members.
In Aurora, a west suburb of Chicago and Illinois’ second largest city, police stop Latinx and Black motorists at disproportionate rates compared to White drivers. Illinois Department of Transportation data from 2020, the latest year available, shows that Aurora police stopped Latinx drivers at nine times the rate of white drivers and stopped Black drivers at 11.5 times the rate of White drivers.
Mr. Gutierrez said he hopes that his case draws more attention to the culture of the Aurora police department and how it has to change.
“It’s not the individual officers, it’s the whole department itself,” he said. “They’re allowing these types of things to happen.”
Mr. Gutierrez, who goes by the nickname “Chicano,” is the owner of Chicano Times, a business that sells merchandise celebrating Mexican culture and puts on promotional events for local businesses and artists.
He said he thinks that he is being profiled and harassed by the Aurora Police Department because he is a Latino who drives a lowrider car and because of his criminal background. Mr. Gutierrez served about 23-and-a-half years in prison for a 1993 shooting. He was 20 years old and didn’t fire any shots.
Mr. Gutierrez, now 48, said he has been trying to make a positive impact in his community since his release from prison in 2017. But he said he regularly gets pulled over for minor traffic violations. In 2020 and 2021, department records show that Mr. Gutierrez was pulled over at least eight times by Aurora police.
Injustice Watch obtained dashcam and cellphone video footage of the April 2020 stop that spurred his lawsuit against the city. Mr. Gutierrez was driving to his sister’s house and Off. Matthew Meyers turns on the same street, flashes the lights on his patrol car, and pulls Mr. Gutierrez over in his sister’s driveway. Mr. Gutierrez repeatedly refuses to get out of the car as ordered and says he will only get out if a police supervisor is present.
After about six minutes of back-and-forth, Off. Meyers reaches inside the car. The cellphone video, which was taken by Mr. Gutierrez’s niece, shows Mr. Gutierrez partially raise his car window. Off. Meyers pulls on the window and breaks the glass, then opens the car door from the inside. He and another cop, identified in police records as officer Cory McCue, pull Mr. Gutierrez out of the car.
The cellphone video shows Off. McCue slamming Mr. Gutierrez’s head on a parked van as he pulls him out of the car. Mr. Gutierrez was diagnosed with a concussion after the incident, according to medical records he shared with Injustice Watch.
Officers Meyers and McCue are named as defendants in the Gutierrez lawsuit. They didn’t take Mr. Gutierrez into custody, but he was convicted in Kane County court for failing to use a turn signal, driving with tinted windows, and for obstruction of a police officer. Kane County prosecutors alleged that Mr. Gutierrez signaled 87 feet before turning, which was 13 feet too late and in violation of traffic laws. A judge found him guilty in January.
One charge carries up to one year in jail. Mr. Gutierrez filed a motion Feb. 18 asking the judge to vacate his judgment. The judge postponed sentencing in the case until April, to give prosecutors time to respond to the motion. Mr. Gutierrez said if the motion fails, he plans to appeal his conviction, and that the court’s ruling won’t stop him from pursuing his lawsuit against Aurora, Meyers, and McCue. The lawsuit is still in the discovery phase, and any trial or settlement could be months away, his attorney said.
(Compiled from Associated Press, Injustice Watch and Report for America content.)