Mother of mentally ill man shot dead by Philly cops files lawsuit

Jon Campisi Aug. 15, 2011, 6:46am

The mother of a mentally unstable man who was shot dead by Philadelphia police officers during a domestic call for help is suing the two cops and the City of Philadelphia, alleging the deadly action was unwarranted.

Philadelphia resident Bernadette Winans is suing on behalf of her deceased son, Carmelo Winans, who was 29 at the time of his death. Bernadette Winans has control over her son’s estate.

The two city police officers named as defendants in the lawsuit are Richard Nicoletti and Matthew McCarthy.

The complaint was filed Aug. 11 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by Philadelphia attorneys Howard D. Popper and Alan L. Yatvin.

According to the lawsuit, Carmelo Winans, who suffered from a mental illness, was inside the home he shared with his father and grandparents on March 13 of this year, when police were called because Carmelo Winans was discovered sitting in the corner of the kitchen floor holding a small steak knife to his own neck.

When officers arrived on scene with guns drawn, it was “readily apparent” to the defendants that Winans was “emotionally compromised, in need of assistance, and  that he did not present a threat to them or to others in the house,” the lawsuit states.

The officers proceeded to speak to Winans and eventually succeeded in getting him to put the knife down on the ground.

“At this point there was no emergency, there was no danger and the situation was de-escalating safely,” the suit states.

Despite the fact that backup officers were on their way, one of who had a Taser gun, Officer Nicoletti dove into the kitchen toward Winans in an attempt to grab the young man and remove the knife from the floor. The problem was that the officer still had his unholstered handgun in his hand, and during the course of his leaping for Winans, the officer discharged his weapon into his own protective vest, the lawsuit claims.

Nicoletti, however, claimed to have been shot, which led his partner to fire multiple shots at a “defenseless” Carmelo Winans, who ended up dying on the kitchen floor.

The lawsuit accuses Nicoletti and McCarthy of escalating the situation, since they didn’t wait for backup, and using unreasonable deadly force against Winans.

“At no time did Plaintiff’s decedent Carmelo Winans commit illegal acts or engage in conduct which justified the actions of Defendants Nicoletti and McCarthy,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit states that Nicoletti and McCarthy aren’t the only officers who failed to use “widely recognized and well-established crisis intervention procedures and techniques with regard to individuals exhibiting possible mental illness, and resorted to unreasonable and excessive force.”

In addition to the excessive force claims against the two officers, the lawsuit accuses city leadership of failing to properly train and supervise its officers, failing to provide programs and services to “qualified persons with mental disabilities,” and failing to ensure that police officers follow established crisis intervention and commitment procedures under such circumstances.

Bernadette Winans brought the legal action on behalf of her dead son under Pennsylvania’s Wrongful Death Act, claiming that she and her family suffered pecuniary loss, incurring funeral and other expenses.

The lawsuit also claims that Carmelo Winans’ children have been deprived of his care, comfort, aid, companionship, services, guidance, affection and support, and will continue to experience the same for the rest of their lives.

Bernadette Winans also sued under Pennsylvania’s Survival Act.

Counts in the lawsuit include violations of civil rights, assault and battery, and “outrageous conduct causing severe emotional distress.”

The plaintiff demands judgment against the defendants, jointly and severally, in an unspecified amount. She also seeks interest, attorney’s fees and other costs.

A jury trial has been demanded.

The federal case number is 2:11-cv-05138-WY.

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