An off-duty Metropolitan Police Department officer who shot and killed a 14-year-old boy in 2007 can't claim the immunity afforded to government employees acting in the course of their official duties, a Washington federal judge ruled (PDF) on Friday.
Charles Rawlings, the father of DeOnte Rawlings, sued (PDF) Officer James Haskel, a second officer and the District of Columbia in October 2007 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Haskel fatally shot DeOnte Rawlings in September 2007 while trying to recover his stolen minibike, and claimed that Rawlings fired first.
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman granted the defendants partial summary judgment, dismissing claims of negligence and negligent training. He also dismissed a claim of assault and battery against Anthony Clay, the other off-duty officer who was with Haskel at the time.
Friedman denied summary judgment to Haskel and Clay on the charge of conspiracy to commit assault and battery, however. In most civil claims against government agencies, employees acting within the scope of their duties are protected against being charged as individuals, but Friedman said Haskel and Clay couldn’t ask for that same protection, Friedman said.
Haskel and Clay weren’t on-duty, never identified themselves as police officers and didn’t notify any on-duty officers that they were going to look for the missing bike, Friedman wrote. Both men were armed when they set out, the judge noted, and Clay had “specifically returned to his home to retrieve his gun.”
“While these facts may not overwhelmingly imply the existence of a conspiracy to commit assault and battery, they are probative, and the jury should be given the opportunity to assess the evidence,” Friedman wrote.
Charles Rawlings disputes that his son was carrying a gun – no gun was recovered on the scene – so Friedman said it will be up to a jury to decide whether Haskel was the instigator or whether he was returning fire.
Rawlings’ attorney, Washington-based solo practitioner Gregory Lattimer, said in a phone interview Monday that he is disappointed he won’t be able to present the negligence claims to a jury, but is preparing for trial on the remaining charges.
“Qualified immunity does not protect an officer who clearly violates the law or is incompetent,” Lattimer said.
The city’s Office of the Attorney General, which is representing all of the defendants, did not immediately return a request for comment.