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Family sues over police shooting of distressed Kansas woman

December 20, 2018

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Police officers fatally shot a mentally distressed woman after ignoring SWAT team members’ advice and entering a suburban Kansas City home to apprehend her “in direct violation of police policies and protocols,” according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the woman’s estate.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court alleges the death of Ciara Howard, 26, was the result of a “recklessly executed siege,” The Kansas City Star reported .

Howard had a history of only minor, nonviolent offenses when authorities went to her boyfriend’s Olathe, Kansas, home in August 2017 to arrest her on a warrant for walking away from the county’s adult residential center. The newspaper previously sued for body camera footage , which showed that officers in Olathe had been briefed that Howard was acting irrationally and had access to her boyfriend’s handgun.

She was “obviously agitated and mentally unstable,” and officers on the scene received “explicit warnings” from the sheriff and tactical team commanders about “the dangers of entering the house,” according to the suit. Despite the warnings, officers on scene used a battering ram to force entry into the house.

Relatives said Howard was bipolar. Her autopsy showed she had amphetamine and methamphetamine in her system.

A spokesman for the Olathe Police Department said Thursday that because of the pending litigation the department declined to comment on the lawsuit. Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden described what happened as “a tragic loss” but said he couldn’t discuss the lawsuit.

The lawsuit said the officers were wearing protective vests and were escorted by a “barking police attack dog” when they entered the residence. With their weapons drawn, officers went into the small laundry room where Howard had barricaded herself and was holding the gun.

“In doing so, they knowingly provoked an unnecessary and deadly confrontation with Ms. Howard,” the lawsuit alleged. The entry into the house was “reckless, deliberate and unlawful,” and the officers involved created their own “jeopardy” which led directly to the death of Howard.

The lawsuit seeks $4 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

The shooting was deemed justified, but the findings addressed only the threat the officers faced once they were in the house, Johnson County Chief Deputy District Attorney Chris McMullin said at the time. It did not address the tactics and decisions officers made to enter the house.

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com

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