Family sues Dearborn, cop for $10M in fatal shooting

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The family of a man fatally shot by Dearborn police last year has filed a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city and the officer involved.

Attorneys representing relatives of Kevin Matthews argued the officer used excessive force and violated the 35-year-old Detroit man’s constitutional rights during a Dec. 23, 2015, arrest, according to a complaint filed Friday in U.S. District Court.

Loved ones have described Matthews, an African-American who was unarmed, as harmless and said he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. Dearborn police, however, have said Matthews was wanted for a probation violation and fled officers after allegedly committing a larceny in that city. Authorities also said he reached for an officer’s gun before he was shot at the Dearborn-Detroit border.

The lawsuit contends Dearborn “failed with deliberate indifference to train and instruct its officers on patrol, coming in contact with the public, on how to de-escalate situations with unruly or combative citizens, including those with mental illness.”

Reached Friday night, Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad said he had not yet seen the lawsuit and declined comment until doing so.

The Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office has ruled the death of Matthews a homicide. The case has long been controversial and prompted protests.

The city’s policing gained further scrutiny just weeks after Matthews died.

In January, a city police officer fatally shot a Detroit woman outside of Fairlane Town Center. That case prompted a similar lawsuit in August.

Janet Wilson, 31, of Detroit, was shot by a police officer on Jan. 27 following an argument at the Dearborn mall. The officer was placed on administrative leave.

Witnesses told investigators Wilson seemed “distraught” and incapacitated. Michigan State Police investigated the incident and said she later appeared to have tried to hit a security guard and a vehicle with a Chevrolet HHR, refused to stop for police who tried to pull her over, then almost struck an officer while speeding away.

Wilson’s death from multiple gunshots was also ruled a homicide. Her family now is suing the city and the police officer for $10 million in damages, alleging the department knew of the officer’s history of excessive force.

Meanwhile, in the wake of the two deaths, federal officials have announced plans to review the Dearborn Police Department’s use-of-force policies as well as provide additional training to officers.

In the Matthews case, the Friday complaint asserts although he bore no weapon and did not have violent tendencies, an unnamed officer “executed” him with nine shots from a department-issued handgun in a fence-enclosed backyard on Whitcomb.

Following a rash of fatal police-involved shootings across the country, the city “had duties and obligations to assure” its force was properly trained to handle interactions, the lawsuit claims. But, lawyers alleged, Dearborn “has repeatedly permitted and condoned … unequal treatment of its police activities against African-Americans in and around the city …”

Mary Laundroche, a spokeswoman for the city, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday night.

The officer involved in Matthews’ shooting was placed on paid administrative leave, Dearborn police have said. An investigation is ongoing.