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Dad of boy killed by police awarded $28 million

A federal court jury on Tuesday awarded $28 million to the father of a boy killed by police more than five years ago.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A federal court jury on Tuesday awarded $28 million to the father of a boy killed by police more than five years ago.

The jury found that two state troopers intentionally shot 12-year-old Michael Ellerbe in the back during a foot chase on Christmas Eve 2002 in Uniontown.

The civil rights lawsuit was filed by the boy's father, Michael Hickenbottom, who contended the troopers had no reason to shoot his son as he ran from a stolen vehicle the troopers had been pursuing.

"After five years, my boy has been vindicated," Hickenbottom said outside the courthouse. "That's enough for me."

A defense attorney had said the shooting was heartbreaking but justified given the tense circumstances.

"This is an enormously disappointing verdict that, in our view, is not at all supported by the evidence," said Andrew Fletcher, an attorney for Troopers Samuel Nassan and Juan Curry. He said his clients plan to appeal the verdict.

The troopers said they thought Ellerbe might have had a gun, and that Nassan heard a shot and saw Curry fall to the ground. Thinking his partner had been shot, Nassan fired one bullet that struck Ellerbe in the back and in the arm, the troopers said. Nassan said he learned later that Curry had actually gotten tangled in a fence that discharged his weapon.

Hickenbottom's attorneys said Ellerbe was unarmed and that the shooting could not have happened as police claimed. They said Curry fired the fatal shot and the two troopers changed their stories to make themselves seem less culpable.

The jury concluded that both Curry and Nassan fired at Ellerbe.

Fletcher declined to comment on that finding, but said he believed Nassan "was certain his partner was shot."

An internal state police investigation found Nassan alone shot Ellerbe because he believed his partner had been struck by a bullet. Both the Fayette County district attorney determined the troopers committed no crime and largely supported the state police version of the shooting.

Jurors awarded $4 million for pain and suffering, $12 million for each trooper's use of excessive force, and $4,058 for burial expenses.