The mother of a man shot by a Walworth County sheriff’s deputy in 2016 is suing several police officials and municipalities because she claims “deliberate indifference and negligence” preceded her son’s death and that some of the officers destroyed squad-car camera video.
Doretha Lock, the mother of Christopher J. Davis and special administrator of his estate, filed the lawsuit Sunday regarding the Feb. 24, 2016, shooting when then-Deputy Juan Ortiz shot Davis in the head while he was a passenger in a car leaving a town of East Troy restaurant parking lot.
Davis, of Milwaukee, was 21 years old.
Police had responded to the parking lot for a drug investigation, but the lawsuit points to details that show the drug bust was poorly handled.
Former District Attorney Dan Necci cleared Ortiz of any wrongdoing, saying Ortiz thought his life was in danger when Jose G. Lara drove toward him in Davis’ 2001 Pontiac Bonneville.
Ortiz was a deputy at the time of the shooting but has since been made a detective.
Davis’ death is one of eight at the hands of Walworth County deputies and police officers in about as many years.
The lawsuit, which said Ortiz’s deadly force was not justified and against the sheriff’s policy, names as respondents:
- James R. Surges (former chief), Paul Schmidt and Craig Knox from the Town of East Troy Police Department.
- Alan Boyes (former chief), Jeremy Swendrowski (current chief), Jeff Price and Aaron Hackett from the Village of East Troy Police Department
- Sheriff Kurt Picknell and Matthew Weber of the sheriff’s office.
- Walworth County, as well as the town of East Troy and village of East Troy as municipalities and their respective insurance agencies.
Davis’ mother seeks damages in an amount to be determined at trial, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee. The suit was first reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The lawsuit also names Lara and Roberto Juarez-Nieves Jr., both of whom face criminal charges from the incident. This year, Walworth County District Attorney Zeke Wiedenfeld charged Lara with second-degree reckless homicide and Juarez-Nieves with conspiracy to deliver cocaine.
Lara, who was the cousin of Davis’ girlfriend, asked to use Davis’ car to meet with someone who owed Lara money, the lawsuit states.
Davis, whom the lawsuit says did not know the other two were going to a drug buy, was not comfortable with Lara driving his car without him being there. Davis did not drive himself because he was afraid of driving on highways and recently had surgery on his ankles and feet.
At about 5:20 p.m. Lara and the others arrived at the parking lot of Roma’s Ristorante and Lounge. Police reported as they approached the car, Lara started to drive away toward Ortiz, who said he fired two shots as he got out of the way.
The lawsuit states Ortiz fired at least four rounds.
Before Davis died, either Lara or Juarez-Nieves called Davis’ mom, according to the lawsuit. Davis couldn’t explain his injuries or that he was dying. He could only tell her he loved her.
A car chase began with officers following Lara into Waukesha County, until he and Juarez-Nieves crashed and escaped on foot.
Davis died on his way to the hospital.
The lawsuit claims the police response was hastily organized and poorly executed.
Price told other officers a confidential informant had said Lara would be in Roma’s parking lot in or near a Mercury Marquis. Knox said the briefing before the drug bust lasted 30 seconds. Schmidt said it was about two minutes.
Ortiz was not a part of the original arrest plan and was supposed to be backup, the lawsuit states.
“Schmidt did not believe the arrest plan was a good idea, as neither he nor Knox were in uniform or had body armor/vests,” the lawsuit states. “Schmidt did not have a duty fire arm on him, and that the information (police had) … was not enough to effectuate an arrest.”
Schmidt, one of the responding officers, told investigators Price took a wrong turn onto Highway 20, which made Knox and Schmidt the leading vehicle into the parking lot, according to the lawsuit. Schmidt called this “tactically faulty” and it should have stopped his and Knox’s “involvement right then in this whole thing.”
“Because of the lack of an adequate plan, serious bodily injury to an individual could take place,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit states dash camera video equipment existed during the shooting, but there is no video. Investigators looked for the video, but found that the video SD cards were removed.
“It is believed that some of the Law Enforcement Defendants purposefully removed the dash cam SD cards from their vehicles and destroyed this evidence,” the lawsuit states.
Ortiz, according to the lawsuit, used deadly and excessive force. Shooting into the car violated the sheriff’s policy and, “Ortiz created a self-inflicted dangerous situation by his actions.”
“He (Ortiz) did not know whether the occupants of the vehicle contained felons or whether the occupants had committed a felony to justify a police stop,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit also claims the officers were inadequately trained in using deadly force and using confidential informants for drug buys and arrests.
Finally, Lara and Juarez-Nieves “owed Davis a duty of care to obey all laws while driving, and to not place Davis in a dangerous and potentially deadly situation,” the lawsuit states.