The family of a mentally ill Detroit woman has filed a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city and members of its police force arguing the mother of two was unarmed when “storm trooping” officers purported to have specialized crisis training attacked and fatally shot her.
The suit filed Thursday in Wayne County Circuit Court argues that officers with Detroit Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team arrived at Ki’Azia Miller’s west side home last month armed with “assault rifles” and when the 27-year-old, partially clothed Miller, who’d been recording and broadcasting the encounter on Facebook live, came to the door from an upstairs bedroom she was visibly unarmed.
“It was at this point that Defendants DOE 1 and DOE 2 quickly and without any warning whatsoever, burst out of nowhere to ambush and savagely attack the almost nude, non-threatening, and mentally ill Ms. Miller,” the complaint, filed by Geoffrey Fieger of Fieger Law, reads.
“Defendants,” the lawsuit continues, “can be heard saying ‘give me your Goddamn arm,’ after which the (Facebook) video cuts out just before Ms. Miller was unnecessarily fatally shot four times by three different DPD officers.”
The complaint alleges gross negligence, assault and battery and wilful misconduct as well as a violation of the persons with disabilities civil rights act and emotional distress.
The City of Detroit did not immediately comment Thursday on the lawsuit.
The lawsuit comes weeks after Detroit Police Chief James White announced two officers and a supervisor had been suspended in connection with Miller’s Nov. 10 shooting death.
White, at the time, told reporters he was concerned over the officers’ actions and whether they had followed procedure to the best of their ability.
The incident unfolded following two 911 calls from Miller’s mother, Lakisha Washington-Meeks, stating that her daughter, who was schizophrenic, was wielding a bat and a knife and had struck the caller’s grandson, who was bleeding. Miller, who had been suffering from an apparent mental health episode, also had access to a weapon, White has said. Shortly after arrival, five officers entered the home and three of them fired a total of four shots, White said at a news conference days after the shooting.
The lawsuit notes Miller began manifesting symptoms of mental illness at age 15 and then was diagnosed with schizophrenia. She functioned well while receiving treatment, but, at times, would become delusional and feel threatened. When those flare ups arose, the filing notes, she was taken to the hospital by family or the police.
Miller had two children: an eight-year-old son and a one-year-old daughter and she had primary custody of the children at the time of her death. Washington-Meeks, and Miller’s grandmother, Cheryl Glynn, visited Miller weekly.
During a Nov. 10 visit, the pair discovered that Miller had been in the midst of a mental health crisis.
The lawsuit argues that the Detroit Police Department’s so-called “Crisis Intervention Team,” is touted as trained on effective and safe deescalation, but the actions that evening gave no indication of that.
The police department has not yet released any footage from the officers’ body-worn cameras. But the lawsuit notes Miller began streaming a portion of the encounter on Facebook live.
The real-time video, the lawsuit reads, depicts Miller exiting an upstairs bedroom and walking down the stairs and toward the front door. After opening the door, an officer is kneeling 10 to 15 yards away and pointing the rifle at her, the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit notes some dialogue between Miller and one of the responding officers and further alleges that the police “were in no immediate danger” while they were “brutally taking down, assaulting, and fatally shooting” Miller, who was unarmed and had “assured the officers she did not, and was not going to, harm anyone.”
Miller, the lawsuit argues, never had a weapon from the time police observed and interacted with her through the time of her “unnecessary” and fatal shooting. Not once, the suit continues, was an officer heard telling Miller to drop a gun, or any weapon.
Still, the lawsuit contends, the officers were unleashed as “aggressive stormtroopers to tackle, beat, and shoot (a) naked, unarmed, mentally ill mother of two small children.”
The incident was the second within a month in which Detroit officers responded to a mental health crisis call with deadly force. In October, a Detroit police officer fatally shot 20-year-old Porter Burks, a Detroit man also diagnosed with schizophrenia who was experiencing a mental health crisis at the time of his death.
Detroit police have seen a rising wave of mental health crisis calls in recent months. The surge has led some, including White, to demand policy changes and that more resources be given to mental health treatment facilities in Detroit.
From Jan. 1 through Nov. 14, the department responded to more than 4,000 mental health calls. Of those, 1,066 concerned a mental health crisis involving a weapon, according to data referenced in Thursday’s lawsuit.
Fieger’s firm is representing Burks’ family in a separate $50 million wrongful death suit. In Thursday’s filing, Burks’ death was also referenced and likened to an “execution by firing squad.”
Burks, who’d been armed with a knife, died in October after officers fired a collective 38 rounds. Detroit police officials have said that Burks was shot after he charged officers “without provocation.”