SCOTTSDALE, AZ - The killing of an unarmed man by a police officer involved in five previous deadly shootings resulted from systemic shortcomings in the Scottsdale Police Department's training and reviews of uses of deadly force, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona said Monday as it sued the city.
John Loxas Jr. was unarmed and holding his 7-month-old grandson on Feb. 14 when since-retired Officer James Peters used a scope-equipped police rifle to shoot Loxas in the head.
The wrongful-death suit filed in U.S. District Court by lawyers for the ACLU and a Chicago law firm on behalf of Loxas family members seeks unspecified damages from the city.
"My son will never know his grandfather because he was literally ripped from my son's arms by a bullet from a man who used his badge of authority for his poor judgment and target practice, and the Scottsdale Police Department let this happen," said Loxas' daughter, Alexandria.
The fact that Peters either by himself or with other officers previously shot six people, including five fatally, should have prompted police to hold Peters accountable and to limit his involvement in police confrontations with civilians, ACLU attorneys said.
The killing of Loxas was an "unnecessary, gratuitous and illegal use of a deadly weapon," said Dan Pochoda, an ACLU attorney.
Scottsdale police did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit, but a spokesman, Officer David Pubins, noted in an email that Maricopa County prosecutors recently decided against charging anybody in the killing of Loxas.
The department now can complete its internal investigation, Pubins said in an email. "We urge the community to allow this very complex process to take place. When the entire process is complete, the results will be made public."
The previous killings involving Peters were ruled justified, as was one in which the person shot survived, but police have acknowledged that Peters had been involved in an unusual number of shootings.
"It's an anomaly in our department and in most departments," police spokesman, Sgt. Mark Clark, said in February.
Police have said officers went to Loxas' home after a neighbor reported that Loxas threatened the neighbor with a gun, but ACLU attorney Dan Pochoda said that even if true, it didn't matter because Loxas was unarmed when shot in his doorway.
Police said then that Peters was trying to save the baby's life when he shot Loxas. While Loxas didn't have a gun when shot, a loaded handgun was found tucked in a couch just feet away and a loaded shotgun was discovered nearby, police said.
"There is no serious allegation that Mr. Loxas demonstrated any serious threat to anyone," Pochoda said.
Pochoda said it's clear that the problem is broader than Peters because a federal judge recently ruled that other Scottsdale officers were unjustified in shooting and wounding a man in a 2008 case. The city is appealing the judge's pretrial ruling in that case.
Peters went on accident-disability retirement in June. He's getting paid $4,500 a month for the rest of his life.
This case is still under investigation.