The family of Lymond Moses, a Black man shot to death by Delaware police in January, announced a lawsuit against the police on Monday that claims his death was not justified and is another example of unnecessary deadly force by white police against Black citizens.
Moses, 30, was killed around 1am local time (5:00 GMT) on January 13 in Wilmington during an encounter with three New Castle County police officers, two of whom fired into his car nine times, with the fatal shot striking his head, according to the death certificate.
Several hours after the shooting, the police department issued a press release which stated that Moses fled the officers in his car, hit a dead end, made a U-turn “and drove at a high rate of speed directly at the officers. The officers subsequently discharged their firearms and struck the driver”.
After pressure from the family and civil rights groups, the police department was ordered in March by Matt Meyer, the New Castle County Executive, to release video footage from all three officers’ body cameras.
According to the footage, the officers, who were out on patrol looking for stolen vehicles, found Moses asleep in his car with the engine running, woke him up and asked him to exit the vehicle.
When they told him they were looking for stolen cars, Moses replied that his car was not stolen, the video showed. After finding marijuana in his car, and telling him the marijuana was not a problem, they asked him several times to “hop out”. Moses instead drove off. As he did, an officer shouted “motherf****r”.
The subsequent footage contradicts the press release, the family and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Delaware say. They say it is clear from the video that Moses drove around the officers as he was trying to flee, and was fired on as he passed and then drove away from them.
According to the lawsuit, which also targets the police department and New Castle County for the officers’ “excessive and unjustified” use of deadly force, none of the three “ever had a reasonable fear of imminent bodily harm”.
“It’s just wrong, how they killed my son,” Moses’s mother, Rozzlie Moses, 50, told Reuters. She said the police “over murdered my son”, who was himself the father of three children, aged 10 years, 9 years, and six months.
The circumstances appear to be similar to the recent police slaying of Andrew Brown Jr, a Black man shot as he fled police during an attempted arrest last week.
Lawyers for Brown’s family alleged at a press conference on Tuesday he was executed by a “kill shot” to the back of his head.
When the video of Moses’s death was released, Lieutenant Brian Faulkner of the New Castle County Police Department said: “Based upon this video, we cannot draw any conclusions as to whether the officers acted within policy and the law, until all the facts are known, and the investigation is complete.”
The county executive did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. Two unnamed officers have been placed on administrative leave.
A spokesman for the Delaware Attorney General, who is conducting an investigation into the shooting, said their names will not be released until the probe is complete.
Mike Leonesio, a former police officer and expert on use of force, who is not connected to the case, told Reuters the “videos, while sensational, don’t answer whether the shooting was objectively reasonable – the legal standard and ultimate question – without more information”.
The executive director of ACLU Delaware, Mike Brickner, reviewed the bodycam footage. He observed it was “different’ from the press release.
“As he was driving away he was very clearly avoiding the police officers. If you look at the two officers who fired, it appears they shot at him to stop him getting away.”
Brickner further noted the difference between the initial police press release and what the bodycam footage showed is similar to what happened in the case of George Floyd, who was murdered last May by former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin.
A court last week convicted Chauvin of murder for keeping his knee on Floyd’s back for over nine minutes. The original police press release in that case said Floyd died after a “medical incident”.
The verdict has inspired activists and family members of those killed by police to push for further accountability.
Mother of #MarioGonzalez says her son was overweight & died by asphyxiation when Alameda Police had their knees on his back.
She says he was not rude with police & did not insult them. Edith Gonzalez says she doesn’t know how to explain Mario’s death to her grandson @nbcbayarea pic.twitter.com/WJ4kJOIpM3
— Melissa Colorado (@melissacolorado) April 27, 2021
The family of Mario Gonzalez, 26, claims he was killed in the same way as Floyd after police knelt on him in a park in Alameda, California.
Gonzalez’s brother, Gerardo, said at a Tuesday press conference the “police killed my brother in the same manner they killed George Floyd” after bodycam footage was released.
The family is demanding answers and accountability for his death.