Attorney: Police shot man in head; family to file lawsuit

AP News
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Posted: Jul 30, 2015 5:13 PM

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — The attorney for the family of a 23-year-old man killed by police in Virginia said Thursday that the medical examiner's report indicates he was shot in the back of the head.

Kawanza Jamal Beaty was fatally shot about 2 a.m. on July 4. Newport News police have said Beaty was carrying a sawed-off shotgun and ignored police calls to drop the weapon after a foot chase. Beaty was originally hiding the weapon underneath a military-style, camouflage jacket when officers first approached him and said they needed to speak with him, according to police.

Police have said the three officers who responded believed Beaty, who was black, was raising the shotgun toward one of them when one of them fired at him. The shotgun later was found to be unloaded and reported stolen.

Police have not released the identities or races of the officers involved, but have said the officer who fired the fatal shot had been involved in a previous shooting.

Newport New Police Spokesman Lou Thurston confirmed Thursday that Beaty's fingerprints and DNA were not found on the shotgun. Police have previously said they moved the shotgun after Beaty was shot, saying they did so for safety reasons. The responding officers were not wearing body cameras and there was no other video, according to police.

Beaty's family has questioned the police department's version of events and has asked the U.S. Justice Department for an outside investigation.

"We felt as though the police department couldn't investigate itself," said LaVonna Lucious, Beaty's aunt. "We just want the truth, whatever that is. That's what the family wants. We feel like there's a lot of people that are trying to cover that up, for whatever reason."

Attorney James Ellenson, who is representing Beaty's family, filed a notice with the city on Thursday that they intend to file a wrongful death lawsuit, saying the shooting death was unprovoked and that it's unclear whether Beaty even knew whether the undercover officers were police officers. Police have said one witness heard police tell Beaty to drop the weapon.

Thurston said the police department couldn't comment on pending litigation.

Ellenson said he will likely file a lawsuit in coming weeks, and that it may wind up in federal court as a civil rights lawsuit. He said filing the lawsuit would allow him to take depositions from the officers involved and to issue subpoenas for any related documents. He said the medical examiner's report was provided to the family and it states that the bullet traveled from behind the left ear and up toward the right.

"At this point, we just want transparency. We want to know why the bullet went the way that it went. Why'd he get shot in the back of his head? Give us an explanation," Ellenson told reporters outside city hall.

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Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis