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Parents of teen shot by Sparks police file wrongful death lawsuit

Updated August 14, 2020 - 2:52 pm

The parents of an 18-year-old mentally ill Sparks man who was shot and killed by police have filed a federal lawsuit against three officers, a lieutenant and the city.

Miciah Lee was killed Jan. 5 after his mother called 911, saying her son was mentally unstable and threatening to kill himself.

The lawsuit alleges that the officers were trained “to do precisely the wrong thing” and disregarded Lee’s mental condition as they sicced a police dog on him and shot him six times.

“Sparks’ police practices were diametrically opposed to proper police procedures, out of sync with the rest of the police profession, and plainly foolish,” according to the complaint filed Thursday on behalf of Lee’s mother, Susan Clopp, and father, Paris Fridge. “The actions taken by the officers were preordained to result not in a safe and peaceful self-surrender, but in the inevitable death of the mentally ill teenager.”

A call to the Sparks Police Department on Friday was not returned. Sparks City Manager Neil Krutz said officials would not comment on pending litigation.

In June, Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks issued a 50-page report concluding that the shooting was justified. A gun found in Lee’s car after he died was not loaded.

Amid Black Lives Matter protests throughout Nevada and across the country, demonstrators invoked Lee’s name. In July, Sparks City Hall was vandalized after public outcry over the shooting.

In a 911 call made public after her son was shot, Clopp could be heard telling a dispatcher that Lee was bipolar with a history of drug use and that he wanted to die “either by you guys or by himself.”

The suit, which named officers Eric Dejesus, James Hammerstone, Ryan Patterson and Lt. James Ahdunko, states that Lee suffered from significant medical and developmental issues from birth.

On the day of the shooting, he was “nearly catatonic, sitting for hours staring into space, obviously deeply depressed,” according to the suit. He had entered his car and told his brothers he would kill himself.

After his mother called police, Lee’s car struck the rear end of another car at a stop sign, and police tried to block him in, but he drove off before crashing into a retaining wall.

“Miciah remained completely silent, at no time did he utter a word, charge the officers, run towards the officers, make a threatening gesture, or threaten to harm the officers or try to flee,” the lawsuit states.

Officers jumped out of their vehicles, aimed their weapons, shouted obscenity-laced commands and released a police dog named “Cabo” on Lee, according to body camera footage made public.

“Within seconds of the canine attack, Patterson leaned into the vehicle attempting to grab Miciah and physically seize him from the car,” the complaint states. “While attempting to violently remove Miciah, Patterson saw Miciah’s gun and hysterically screamed: ‘He’s got a gun! He’s got a gun!’ even though … at all times Patterson knew Miciah had a gun. The gun was no surprise, the officers were informed by Clopp Miciah had a gun.”

Patterson and DeJesus fired a total of seven shots, striking the teen six times.

Along with wrongful death and failure to train, the suit claims violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, municipal liability, excessive force, supervisor liability, deprivation of the right to a familial relationship, and negligence.

Contact David Ferrara at dferrara @reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Follow @randompoker on Twitter.

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