published Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Heyward family files federal lawsuit


by Jacqueline Koch

PDF: Heyward lawsui

THE STORY SO FAR

Chattanooga police responded to the McDonald's restaurant on Rossville Boulevard early on July 18 after reports that a suicidal man had a rifle. Officers found Alonzo Heyward, 32, at the restaurant, then followed him to his home on Seventh Avenue, repeatedly asking him to drop his weapon. When he didn't, officers used a Taser, which was ineffective, police have said. The officers then used deadly force, firing 59 shots. A preliminary report from the Hamilton County Medical Examiner's Office showed that Mr. Heyward sustained 43 entry and exit wounds. After being placed on administrative leave with pay, the six officers involved in the shooting returned to work. The Chattanooga Police Department, TBI and the NAACP are conducting investigations. The NAACP hosted a community meeting last week at which residents expressed anger and frustration for the situation.

The family of a man shot multiple times by six Chattanooga police officers claims the officers were not adequately trained in use-of-force policy and created an "atmosphere of illegal and unconstitutional behavior" in "deliberate indifference and reckless disregard" for the public welfare, a federal court lawsuit states.

Alonzo Heyward, 32, died July 18 with 43 bullet wounds in his body.

Mr. Heyward's parents, James and Margie Marine, filed suit last week, seeking compensatory and punitive damages, attorney fees and a judgment that the police department's policies, practices and customs are illegal and unconstitutional, according to the suit.

The lawsuit is filed on behalf of Mr. Heyward's beneficiaries, including Neka Wells and Tanisha Johnson -- the mothers of his children.

It names as defendants the City of Chattanooga, the city police department and the six officers involved in the shooting: Lauren Bacha, Deborah Dennison, Zachery Moody, George Romero, William Salyers and Bryan Wood.

"The defendants have a policy, practice or custom of allowing its officers to use deadly, excessive and/or unreasonable force without fear of discipline creating an atmosphere where such behavior is accepted, condoned, tolerated, acquiesced, approved and ratified in reckless disregard and deliberate indifference to the welfare to the public at large, including Mr. Heyward," according to the suit.

Police have said that the officers perceived a threat and acted upon it. City Attorney Mike McMahan said the city attorney's office does not comment on pending litigation. The office has 20 days to file a response to the lawsuit.

The suit claims that the city and police department did not adequately monitor and evaluate the performance of the officers and their use of deadly force.

The officers' attorney, Bryan Hoss, said Mr. Heyward pointed his rifle at officers. Officers followed departmental policy by continuing to give verbal warnings, attempting to use a Taser, calling for assistance on their radios and using force only when the threat could not be abated, Mr. Hoss also said.

"Unfortunately for Mr. Heyward's family, Mr. Heyward was a threat, not only to these officers but to the community at large," Mr. Hoss said Monday. "And when you take a loaded rifle into the streets of Chattanooga, unfortunately these officers are trained to react to those direct threats, and that's what they did. And they reacted according to their training in this case."

Archie Sanders III of the Johnnie Cochran Law Firm in Memphis is representing the family. He did not return a message seeking comment late Monday afternoon.

The lawsuit alleges that Mr. Heyward kept his rifle pointed at himself at all times and did not say or do anything that would have made the officers fear for their lives. The suit also says that the officers fired in three separate volleys totaling 59 shots and, after the initial barrage, fired again "suddenly and without warning."

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