Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Stewart Attorneys Want City to Settle, Schilling 'Behind Bars'

Posted By on Wed, Jul 13, 2016 at 3:18 PM

Schilling (left), Stewart (right)
  • Schilling (left), Stewart (right)

Attorneys for the family of Darrius Stewart want the city to settle the $17.1 million lawsuit out of court and want his shooter, former Memphis Police Department officer Connor Schilling, behind bars.

Schilling shot Stewart to death last July. Stewart was unarmed and was attempting to flee the scene. Schilling shot twice, killing Stewart. Schilling was not fired but was allowed to retire with full pension benefits from MPD.

Attorneys for Stewart’s family filed the lawsuit in federal court Wednesday. They said 352 days have passed since Stewart’s death and that Stewart’s mother, Mary Stewart, and his father, Henry Williams “deserve some type of justice.”

“We’ve waited until the very last minute to give the city the opportunity and not waste taxpayer money defending [the lawsuit],” said Carlos Moore, of the Moore Law Group in Grenada, Miss. “Save the money you’re going to pay all these attorneys and go ahead and pay the family the of Darrius Stewart.”

Moore said his team tried diplomacy in the matter and they “waited and waited and waited” for a response from city officials.

“Surely in a city that has a 67 percent African American population, black lives would matter,” Moore said. “But we’ve seen time and time again, no matter what the city looks like — the population of the city — when it comes down to the criminal justice system, we see that black lives do not matter.”

The lawsuit comes as protests against police violence on African Americans have erupted all over the country. About 1,000 protesters in Memphis marched on the Hernando-DeSoto Bridge Sunday, stopping I-40 traffic in both directions.

Stewart’s attorneys say they chose to file their suit against the city during this time, hoping to catch traction with the symbolism and timing of the movement. Moore used the bridge protest as a reason why he hopes the matter is settled soon.

“[Memphis Mayor] Jim Strickland can heal this community,” Moore said. “He and the [Memphis City Council] can bring this community together. This does not need to be another march on the bridge. I-40 should not be blocked again.”

Another Stewart-family attorney, Arthur Horne, with Memphis-based Horne and Wells, said the suit is symbolic and that it “stands for more than just the fight for Darrius Stewart.

“We believe this lawsuit stands for all of the unarmed citizens and young, black men who have been attacked and had their civil rights violated by the MPD,” Wells said.

The suit stands on three main ideas. Officer Schilling violated MPD protocols when he received a radio transmission outside the presence of someone being detained. He also violated MPD protocols because he did not call for backup when he was handcuffing Stewart.

But the major point of the suit is that Schilling used excessive force against Stewart, said Murray Wells, an attorney with Horne and Wells. In particular, Wells said the second shot - the one that killed Stewart - was fired “after some pause and reflection” by Schilling.

“That is by definition excessive force,” he said. “It is not coincidental that the city has remained absolutely silent about the use of force [by] Connor Schilling. They did not do any investigation about excessive force [by] Connor Schilling.

“There was no discipline on Connor Schilling. There was a disciplinary preceding ongoing but only as to the radio and only as to the failure to call for backup. They never even looked at whether or not the shooting was excessive.”

Wells said further injury came as the city allowed Connor to retire with full pension benefits (“as a result of the post traumatic stress that he suffered while taking the life of our client”) even after the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation found criminal violations and recommended the evidence be put to a grand jury.

The U.S. Department of Justice is still investigating Stewart’s death. His family’s attorney said they hope the probe yields an indictment of Schilling and that “he will end up behind bars.”

Wells said the suit may be heard by a jury in a year or, maybe, two. He said the city is unlikely to settle the suit and he expects city attorneys to file denials of any wrongdoing and attempt to get the case thrown out on “a technicality.”

Williams, Stewart’s father, said the suit is a move toward justice but that it wouldn’t bring his son back.

“We’ve been taking it hard,” Williams said. “We look at his pictures and think about everyone else with their kids. Their kids are out playing and everyone else is out there living their life but your son got taken form you. It hurts. It hurts a lot.” 

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