The family of a young black man who was fatally shot by police officers in Colorado Springs last year has filed a federal lawsuit against the city claiming officers violated his constitutional rights through the use of excessive force.
De'Von Bailey, 19, was shot four times in the back after someone called in a false robbery report as a revenge tactic, the family lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of Colorado said Thursday. A former classmate who knew Bailey and his cousin, Lawrence Stoker, allegedly called in the report because he lost a physical altercation with Bailey.
“This was murder, pure and simple,” his father, Greg Bailey, said. “They killed my son as he was running away from them. He did not want to hurt them or anyone else. He was running away, and they shot him in the back like an animal.”
Authorities said at the time that officers responded to a report of an armed robbery. The responding officers, named in the family’s lawsuit, alleged that they were speaking to two potential suspects when one seemed to reach for a firearm. Video footage from a nearby surveillance camera showed a portion of the encounter, in which Bailey can be seen running away from officers before falling to the ground.
The lawsuit said Colorado Springs Sgt. Alan Van’t Land and officer Blake Evenson described their initial conversation with Bailey and Stoker as calm and civl, but then began approaching the two young men. But Bailey ran as Van’t Land approached him from behind, and both officers drew their guns while yelling “hands up” in rapid succession, the suit claims.
“Defendant Van’t Land did not wait to see if Mr. Bailey would obey his commands to put his hands up; he had already decided to shoot Mr. Bailey in the back,” the lawsuit said. “Before he had even finished saying the word ‘up’ for the final time, Defendant Van’t Land fired his gun at Mr.Bailey.”
The family’s suit claims Bailey’s death violated the 1985 Supreme Court decision in Tennessee v. Garner, which states that use of deadly force to prevent the escape of a suspect is constitutionally unreasonable unless the suspect poses a significant threat.
Eyewitnesses stated that they never saw Bailey make a threatening gesture or reach for a gun. A gun was later discovered in his pocket, according to the lawsuit. "The gun was so deep within his shorts that the officers were required to cut Mr. Bailey’s shorts to remove the gun because it was so difficult to retrieve out of his shorts pocket," the lawsuit states.
“Defendant police officers determined that the only way to prevent Mr. Bailey from getting away was to shoot him in the back,” the suit said. “So they did.”
A grand jury found that the fatal shooting by Van’t Land and Evensen was a justified act in November.
A spokesperson for the city of Colorado Springs on Thursday said they would not comment on active litigation. The Colorado Springs Police Department did not immediately responded to a request for comment.
Van’t Land was not available for comment to NBC News. Public information to contact Evenson was not available and it is unclear if he has representation.
The family’s lawsuit also alleges that excessive use of force and racially biased policing “has long been the custom and actual practice” at the Colorado Springs Police Department. The suit listed a number of cases where complaints of excessive force were made against the department, including the 2018 death of Jeffrey Melvin, who was hit with a stun gun during a police response to a disturbance call at an apartment building.
Mari Newman, one of the attorney’s for Bailey’s family, said the lawsuit filed Thursday will “level the playing field” between police and the community.
“This is yet another example of racially biased policing, with a deadly result,” Newman said. “De’Von’s rights were completely ignored. Instead, the police took the role of judge, jury and executioner. And the law enforcement community quickly took the side of the police.”