The family of a man shot to death by police as he wielded a 10-foot tree branch has sued for $10.5 million.
The suit filed in 3rd District Court Wednesday against Salt Lake City and two officers contends Birtes Wilson Jr. was using the branch to ward off blows from the batons of the rookie officers, Joel Schow and Michele Rendon.The police department contends Wilson, 29, was swinging the branch at Rendon and Schow fired twice to protect his partner.
Wilson's wife, Janet, is the plaintiff in the lawsuit, along with the Wilsons' three children and the deceased man's parents. After the shooting, Janet Wilson said Schow killed her husband because he was black.
Shortly after the April 10, 1994, shooting, Police Chief Ruben Ortega accused Janet Wilson of having "dollar signs in her eyes." The chief also said Janet Wilson had told detectives she was glad the man had been shot - but it turned out another witness had made that statement.
Schow was cleared by the Salt Lake County Attorney's Office and is still on the force.
On the night of the shooting, Janet Wilson called police and asked them to get her car from her husband. Janet and her husband had fought in the past and the apartment where he was sleeping had a reputation as a drug house.
Schow and Rendon knocked on the door. The suit says they threatened to knock down the door if Wilson did not come out. He came out and gave Rendon the keys to the car. Then he asked for her badge number.
Rendon refused, according to the lawsuit, and Wilson then asked for the keys and reached for them, according to a witness.
Wilson was sprayed in the eyes with Mace. It was raining and he used puddle water to wash away the chemical. The suit says Schow then began beating Wilson with a baton while screaming profanities at him.
Wilson ran from the officers and picked up the branch. Police say Rendon ducked when Wilson swung it at her and Schow fired twice.
An autopsy found Wilson had cocaine in his blood.
The suit says Schow and Rendon violated Wilson's civil rights and the city failed to properly train the officers and did not discipline them.