Wrongful death claim filed by mother whose son was killed by cops removed to U.S. District Court

By Jon Campisi | Nov 7, 2011

The mother of a 19-year-old Philadelphia man shot and killed by city police officers, allegedly while he was unarmed, will have her civil case heard in federal, not state, court after city lawyers filed a removal notice Nov. 3 with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of the defendants.

Assistant City Solicitor Mark V. Maguire filed the venue transfer notice on behalf of the City of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Police Department and two John Doe police officers named in a civil action filed last month by Bala Cynwyd, Pa. lawyer Dennis L. Abramson and Philadelphia attorney Robert B. Mozenter on behalf of Tracy Murray, a Philadelphia woman who is suing in her capacity as administrator of her deceased son’s estate.

City lawyers seek venue transfer because there are federal civil rights violations alleged in the lawsuit.

According to her original complaint, attached to the removal notice, Murray claims that her son, Albert Purnell, II, was shot dead by police officers four months shy of his 20th birthday.

The complaint states that Purnell was standing on a street corner with others on May 9 of this year at about 8:14 p.m. when he began to run from the defendant police officers, who were approaching the group in a police squad car at a high rate of speed.

The complaint does not say that Purnell was the subject of the initial police presence, but rather that the young man was simply running because he wanted to “get out of the way of whatever was about to occur.”

“While Decedent was running but not posing a threat to anyone, the police officer defendants repeatedly attacked him with multiple discharges of their firearms, with at least one bullet striking Decedent, causing serious injury,” the complaint states.

The suit claims that Purnell, “disoriented, startled, oxygen starved, bleeding profusely and fearing for his life,” then fled the area, finding shelter in a nearby home.

Moments after entering the home, and collapsing on a couch, the defendant police officers entered the residence with their guns drawn, telling Purnell to put his hands above his heads, which he did.

One of the officers then fired his weapon at least four times, the suit states, striking Purnell at least once, and killing the young man on the spot.

The lawsuit claims that the police department has yet to identify the police officer involved in the incident.

The complaint alleges that police used unnecessary, unreasonable and excessive lethal force, that they failed to adequately assess the situation before deploying lethal force, that they failed to exhaust all reasonable means of control before reverting to lethal force and that they failed to properly determine whether lethal force was necessary under the circumstances.

Following the shooting, the lawsuit claims, eyewitnesses gave statements to police investigators, but were later “encouraged to change their statements.”

In an attempt to justify the use of deadly force, police “fabricated a story” in which they said the deceased had shot at them during the altercation, the suit states. However, no weapon was found on Purnell.

“Upon information and belief, members of the Philadelphia Police Department, including the police officers involved in the shooting and killing of Decedent, made materially false and misleading statements regarding the shooting and failed to conduct a reasonable investigation of the shooting and/or the events leading up to it,” the complaint alleges. “Defendants’ conduct … was vindictive, retaliatory, and motivated in whole or in part by prior encounters that Decedent had with members of the Philadelphia Police Department.”

The lawsuit does not elaborate on the supposed prior interactions.

In addition to the alleged civil rights violations, the lawsuit contains claims of wrongful death, state constitutional violations and survival action.

The plaintiff seeks compensatory damages in excess of $75,000, punitive damages in excess of $75,000, attorney’s fees and other court relief.

The Philadelphia Common Pleas Court ID case number is 111002148.

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