COLUMBUS — A girl whose mother was shot and killed before her eyes in 2008 by a Lima police officer can sue police for arresting her three years later for directing obscene hand gestures in their direction, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati unanimously found that police did not have grounds to arrest the 11-year-old girl, identified in court documents as minor T.W.
It upheld a lower court ruling that the officers were not immune from false arrest, false imprisonment, and retaliation allegations. The retaliation, the suit alleges, was because the youth’s family received a $2.5 million wrongful-death settlement from the city’s insurance carrier.
The false arrest lawsuit will now proceed in U.S. District Court in Toledo.
On Jan. 4, 2008, police stormed a home in search of a drug suspect and, in the process, accidentally shot and killed the girl’s unarmed mother, Tarika Wilson, 26, as she huddled with her children. Also shot was the girl’s 1-year-old brother. He survived.
The shooting officer testified that he fired in reaction to shots fired by fellow officers downstairs when they killed two pit bulls. He was indicted on misdemeanor charges by an Allen County grand jury but was acquitted, sparking outrage in the community.
About three years later, Lima police responded to a report of a street fight and arrived to find a group of youths, including Ms. Wilson’s 11-year-old daughter, walking in the street but not fighting. As police approached, T.W. walked away, directing the hand gestures toward police as she did.
She kept going despite an officer’s order that she stop. She was arrested and charged with persistent disorderly conduct.
“(T)he circumstances here, as alleged in the [police] complaint at least, are that an 11-year-old girl raised her middle fingers toward an adult male police officer,” Judge Raymond M. Kethledge wrote. “Those circumstances did not create a situation where violence was a likely result. (And if violence had resulted, the officers would be facing more claims than they are now.)
“T.W.’s gesture was crude, not criminal; and the officers were patently without probable cause to arrest her for it,” he wrote.
T.W.’s Dayton attorney, Cheryl Renee Washington, said the evidence will show the police officers targeted T.W. because of who she was.
“We are excited about the opportunity to have a court look at the totality of the facts and uphold justice for a family that has had a difficult time,” she said.
The city’s attorney, Jared Alan Wagner, did not return a call for comment.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.