Family of Ohio man killed in his sleep by police officer to receive $4.4 million After proving their claim in civil court, a jury has ordered the police officer who fatally shot a black motorist to pay his loved ones compensation for his untimely death.
On Tuesday, November 1, the verdict in the wrongful death of 23-year-old Luke Stewart was rendered by his estate against Euclid Police Sgt. Matthew Rhodes. Four years after his death in 2017, Mary Stewart, Luke Stewart’s mother, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Rhodes.
The case was heard before Judge Shannon M. Gallagher of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Plea, who supported a jury’s decision to require Rhodes to pay the relatives a multi-million dollar reward but still refused to compensate them for any damages or legal fees, reports the Cleveland-area newspaper The News-Herald.
In a statement from the city of Euclid, officials said they were disappointed with the outcome of the trial.
“The City of Euclid and the Euclid Police Department are aware of the decision made in the civil litigation relating to Euclid Police Sergeant Matthew Rhodes,” the statement said. “While we respect the court process, we are disappointed with the outcome of this process and are currently evaluating our next course of action on this matter.”
During the trial, it was revealed that a woman identified as a law enforcement officer saw Stewart’s black Honda outside of her home on South Lake Shore Boulevard in Euclid, Ohio, with the parking lights on in March 2017. She reported that a “suspicious car” with darkened windows was stopped in front of her home for about 20 minutes and officers responded to her fear.
According to court documents, upon arrival, officers found a man in the car and believed he was under the influence.
Officer Louis Catalani, who arrived first at the scene, found Stewart asleep in the vehicle. He shone his flashlight in Stewart’s face, but the driver didn’t respond. Looking through the car window, the officer said he saw a digital scale in the center console and what appeared to be a half-burned blunt object on the passenger seat. In addition to the marijuana cigar, the officer said he thinks he saw a wine bottle stopper on the floor of the car near the driver’s feet.
The officer retrieved the information from his license plate and returned to his car to drive it, only to find that the car was registered to a man who appeared to be much older than the man he saw sleeping. In addition to the age difference, there was an issue because the owner of the car had an active warrant and Catalani could not confirm that the person in the car was not the same person.
Catalani heard that another officer, Rhodes, was on the way and decided to remove the man from the car once his assistance arrived.
The process determined when officers approached Stewart’s car, Catalani came alongside the driver’s side and Steward approached the passenger’s side. Catalani knocked on the window again. This time he waved and said “Hello” without reporting to the young man as a police officer.
According to the officer, this time the young man answered him and waved back.
Stewart sat up and started his car.
Catalani tried to stop him saying, “No. no no Stop. Stop. Stop,” and grabbed the door handle on the driver’s side.
The officer then tried to pull Stewart out of the car while Rhodes tried to push him out from the other side. At that point, the court filings say, Stewart engaged his vehicle gear and started moving, the court filings say.
At some point in this sequence of events, Rhodes got into Stewart’s car, leading to a fight between the two men. During the scramble, Rhodes pocketed an unarmed Stewart, punched him, and then fatally shot him four times.
None of the police officers activated their dashboard cameras or belt microphones, which experts who testified in the case said disregarded best practices normally followed by the department.
In the state of Ohio, police dashcam footage is considered public records and is a tool to hold police accountable as well. Stewart’s mother’s attorney, Sarah Gelsomino, said the lack of dashcam footage at the trial “deprived the public of an important piece of evidence.”
Originally, U.S. District Judge James S. Gwin dismissed the lawsuit in July 2018. The judge deemed the case a “close and difficult issue” because the officer likely had reason to believe he was at risk of serious bodily harm.
The lawsuit was refiled in 2021 and prevailed the last time, resulting in the award referenced above.
Rhodes was promoted to sergeant in January 2022, despite the then-pending civil suit.
https://atlantablackstar.com/2022/11/07/ohio-jury-awards-family-4-4-million-in-wrongful-death-lawsuit-against-police-who-killed-unarmed-man/ Ohio jury awards family $4.4 million in wrongful death lawsuit against police who killed unarmed man