VOL. 131 | NO. 140 | Thursday, July 14, 2016
Darrius Stewart Family Sues City, Police For $17 Million
By Bill Dries
The family of Darrius Stewart, killed a year ago this month by Memphis Police Officer Conner Schilling, has filed a $17 million lawsuit against the city of Memphis, former Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong and Schilling.
The wrongful death civil suit that alleges Constitutional violations was filed in Memphis federal court on Wednesday, July 13.
It seeks $7.1 million in compensatory damages and another $10 million in punitive damages.
Stewart was shot twice by Schilling after Schilling pulled over a car Stewart was a passenger in.
Schilling claimed he struggled with Stewart as he attempted to handcuff him. Schilling said Stewart was wanted on warrants in another state, something his family has vehemently denied and which is denied in the lawsuit.
A Tennessee Bureau of Investigation report concluded Schilling violated several key police policies and that the second shot that hit Stewart, the fatal shot, was fired as Stewart was trying to get up.
Attorney Arthur Horne, one of the team of attorneys representing Stewart’s family, said the TBI report is central to the claims made in the lawsuit.
“The TBI report is one of the foundational parts of our lawsuit,” Horne said. “We’ve done our own investigation. … He was in a defensive position. He was not a threat to Conner Schilling. He was shot once and as he staggered away from over 10 feet away from Conner Schilling, he was shot again. … He was not in a position to harm Conner Schilling. He was unarmed.”
Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich turned the investigation over to the TBI, a decision that took the investigation out of the hands of police. Armstrong and then Mayor A C Wharton concurred in the decision.
Weirich reviewed the TBI report and recommended that Schilling be charged with voluntary manslaughter. A grand jury recommended no charges against Schilling.
City Chief Legal Officer Bruce McMullen cited the “national conversation” in recent weeks about how police interact with African-Americans.
“However, this case will be handled based on the facts of this specific case,” McMullen said in a written statement.
McMullen also faulted the lawsuit for relying on a federal law “which focuses not on the actions of the officers, but on policies, procedures and training of the police department.”
“We are confident in the policies, procedures and training that were in place under police director Armstrong at the time of this incident,” McMullen added.
The legal team for the Stewart family and Mary Stewart, Darrius Stewart’s mother, announced the lawsuit in front of The Commercial Appeal building Downtown as Memphis police watched the crowd of about 100 people.
Many of those in the crowd have been involved in protests since Sunday’s blocking of traffic on the Hernando DeSoto Bridge for several hours. Police were limiting the number of people on the sidewalk bordering Union Avenue in front of the newspaper’s offices.