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Bellevue family refiles suit against police

Shawn Foucher • Dec 1, 2013 at 10:40 AM

Military veteran. Homeowner. Concealed-carry permit holder. No criminal record.

That’s the man James David Sr. was on Sept. 22, 2010, when Bellevue police Officers Jeffrey Matter and Erik Lawson fatally shot him as he sat on a chair outside his Union Street home.

David’s family has renewed their fight against Bellevue and its police department, filing a federal lawsuit seeking $1 million in damages for wrongful death.

The family originally filed suit in September 2012, without an attorney, but they later withdrew the case.

They’ve since hired Wittenberg Law Group, of Reynoldsburg, to represent them in the new suit filed this month in U.S. Northern District Court in Toledo.

The suit accuses Matter, Lawson and the police department of violating the civil rights of David and his family.

Specifically, it accuses the officers and former Bellevue police Chief Dennis Brandal of excessive use of force and negligence on multiple levels, including violating David’s right to bear arms.

The two officers were responding to a neighborhood dispute when they arrived at the scene that night.

David had walked across the street to confront a group of people who were causing a disturbance, according to the lawsuit, and several of the people responded by threatening him.

David then returned to his home, where his wife, Karen, was headed to bed.

“David believed the people in front of his house posed a threat to him, his wife, and his property, so he retrieved his firearm, went to his front porch, and sat in the chair on his front porch to protect himself, his wife and his property from harm” the suit states.

One of the people who David confronted — James Armstrong — called police and said David had threatened him, the suit states.

When Matter and Lawson arrived, they parked their cruisers in the area without activating their emergency lights. They then approached David’s home on foot, “under the cover of darkness” and from behind a tree, according to the suit.

“Matter and Lawson approached the David house with guns drawn and flashlights in hand,” the suit states. “With guns raised and without clearly identifying themselves in the dark, half hidden by the tree, wearing all black, shining flashlights at David, and coming from the direction of a known threat to David, (Matter and Lawson) engaged (David) without identifying themselves as police officers”

Both officers later said David had a handgun and made a movement toward the front door of the home.

The officers fired 22 shots at David, with multiple shots striking him in the face, arm, lungs, heart, aorta, liver, spleen, intestines, bladder and pelvis.

David never fired his weapon.

The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation later presented the case to a grand jury, which opted not to indict the officers.

Both officers were ultimately cleared.

“From the autopsy and the BCI reconstruction of where the bullets struck the house, David was sitting in the chair where he was fired upon by Lawson and Matter” the suit states.

The suit accuses the officers of creating a dangerous and threatening situation by failing to identify themselves, and by wearing all black and shining flashlights at David.

The officers “lacked probable cause to pursue David in the manner that they did,” the suit states. “Their conduct exceeded the scope of their discretionary authority and violated a right to clearly established that any officer in that position would have known to refrain from such conduct”

One claim in the lawsuit alleges Lawson was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after only recently returning from military service in a combat zone.

The officer’s actions “resemble that of soldiers in a combat zone approaching a target using extreme condition tactics instead of two officers responding to a non-pursuit or ‘no emergency light’ situation whereby they were to investigate a complaint, not engage a subject” the suit states.

The suit also says Karen David has experienced severe emotional injuries as a result of witnessing the wrongful death of her husband.

The other plaintiffs in the suit are David’s son, James David Jr., and his daughter, Stacy Thomsen.

Defendants are the city of Bellevue, the city’s police department, former police Chief Dennis Brandal, and Lawson and Matter.

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