Family of no-knock

Dianne Reed, center, is consoled by Dallas based lawyer Daryl Washington, left, and Jumeka Reed, right, outside the Killeen Police Department headquarters in June 2019. 

 

Even though the city of Killeen officially has outlawed its police officers from participating in no-knock raids, the issue is not over for one local family that, in 2020, filed a lawsuit against the city and several individual officers following the shooting death of a Killeen man.

James “Scottie” Reed was 40 years old when he was killed on Feb. 27, 2019 during a no-knock SWAT raid at his house at 215 W. Hallmark Ave. His family alleges that multiple officers fired shots into the house and that Reed was armed but did not fire his handgun.

“February is right around the corner, and every time his death anniversary comes up it just reminds me of how long he’s been dead — one, two, now almost three years,” said Reed’s sister, Jumeka Reed, who spoke with the Herald on Thursday. “It’s a lot to think about.”

Slow process

It has been more than a year and-a-half since Reed’s mother, Dianne Reed-Bright, filed her initial complaint in federal court. The lawsuit named the City of Killeen, Anthony Custance, Richard A. Hatfield Jr., Fred L. Baskett and Christian Suess as defendants. (Suess was dismissed from the lawsuit in a court order on Sept. 27, 2021.)

Since May 27, 2020, when the lawsuit began, many motions have been filed but no hearings have been held.

“We haven’t gotten a trial date yet; we haven’t even had the initial scheduling conference,” said Dallas attorney Daryl Washington, the Reed family’s attorney who spoke with the Herald on Thursday. “I doubt we’ll go to trial in 2022, but I expect the discovery process to start.”

An initial salvo of defense motions to dismiss, filed in July of 2020, prompted Washington to file responses that led to a series of replies by the defendants. Official answers to the lawsuit began to be filed around a year after the initial complaint: Custance on April 14, 2021, and the City of Killeen, Hatfield Jr. and Baskett on Oct. 8, 2021.

Such delays are nothing new, however.

“That is the aspect that can be disappointing about these cases, because the defense counsel will file Rule 12(b)(6) motions because it’s both a way to delay matters and to bill the case to their client, instead of filing an answer and proceeding with discovery,” Washington said. “Attorneys know that it can take 9 months to a year to get a ruling from a judge, so that can delay a case. I’ve seen cases where so much time has passed that witnesses have died.”

Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) includes pretrial motions such as motions for dismissal of a lawsuit. According to a 2019 Thomson Reuters “Law School Insights” article, such motions rarely are successful.

Family, attorney hopeful about eventual outcome

Washington said that community healing and transparency are two goals of the lawsuit.

“Municipalities and police forces around the country are taking responsibility for the wrongful death of individuals, and I think this goes a long way in healing our communities and creating better relationships between police and members of the community,” Washington said. “People have to own up to the wrong. In this case, the evidence does not support the officers’ claims that (James Reed) shot at them.”

In documents filed with the U.S. District Court, both judges for the Western District of Texas indicated that the legal doctrine of qualified immunity--which has shielded police officers from liability in the past--was not going to end the Reed family’s lawsuit.

“I’m pleased to see these judges doing their job fairly and without being biased,” Jumeka Reed said. “That gives me hope.”

In his report that was filed on May 11, 2021, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey C. Manske opined that the officers are not entitled to qualified immunity: “According to (Reed-Bright’s) complaint, Reed did not have a gun in his hand nor fire at officer at the time of the raid…Reed and (Eva Brocks, his fiancee) were in bed when the raid began and would not have been able to fire shots as fast as the unannounced shooting commenced. Thus, (Reed-Bright) alleges that the defendants shot and killed an unarmed man in his own home during a no-knock raid. If this is true, officers used lethal force at a moment when Reed posed no immediate threat of serious harm; thus, qualified immunity is improper.”

On Sept. 27, 2021, U.S. District Judge Alan D. Albright issued an opinion in agreement with Manske.

Jumeka Reed and Washington agreed that the Killeen City Council’s decision in April to end KPD’s participation in no-knock raids also could impact the success of the lawsuit.

“It shows that no-knocks were never necessary to begin with,” Reed said.

Washington said he was “extremely encouraged” by the council’s ordinance.

“There’s no question that a no-knock raid is just a very dangerous process, both for homeowners and police officers, when we live in a state where people have a right to protect their castle,” he said. “The change in policy in Killeen shows that what happened to James shouldn’t have happened.”

Washington said that he hopes the Reed family’s lawsuit will lead to a larger change.

“No matter how hard I work, I won’t be able to bring James Reed back to life but this can be prevented from happening to other people,” he said.

Custance, who no longer is a police officer, was the only person who was indicted by a grand jury on any charges. He was sentenced in 2019 to a term of six years of deferred adjudication probation for tampering or fabricating evidence.

(1) comment

Noneofyourbiz

This is always a heartbreaking story to read.

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