The family of the man shot and killed by Rifle police Cpl. Dewey Ryan last August has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging the incident violated his constitutional rights.
The legal action against Ryan, Police Chief Tommy Klein and the city of Rifle alleges that when Ryan shot Rifle resident Allan George, 58, twice in the back as George slowly jogged away from him with his gun in his pocket, Ryan violated George’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizures through the use of excessive force.
“The use of deadly force to apprehend him in the circumstances described herein was constitutionally excessive,” the suit says.
It was brought by George’s widow, Sarra, and by his two adult children, and also on behalf of his two minor children.
Ryan and a second officer pulled George over in his vehicle Aug. 5 as he exited Interstate 70 and sought to arrest him on a warrant for alleged possession of pornographic and/or sexually explicit images of children.
George exited the vehicle with a handgun, made comments about not going to jail again and at various points showed signs that he might jump off a bridge into the Colorado River and pointed the gun at himself. Meanwhile, the two officers implored him to drop the gun, think of his family and not hurt himself. That’s all according to an investigation synopsis released later by 9th Judicial District Attorney Jeff Cheney.
Cheney determined that no criminal charges against Ryan were warranted for shooting George when George then began jogging away from the officers with his pocketed gun. Cheney called Ryan’s actions “objectively reasonable.” Cheney wrote in his decision that George ignored numerous commands to drop his gun, and could have acted in an instant to point his gun at officers and fire on them, or likewise fire on passing motorists. George never aimed his gun at police.
In his decision, Cheney also cited factors such as the lack of other officers available to help the two on the scene.
Attorney David Lane, who is representing the George family, has called Cheney’s decision a whitewash, and maintains that George posed no immediate threat to Ryan or others when he was shot. The suit says that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that in such a situation using deadly force to apprehend a suspect isn’t justified.
The suit is seeking relief including for economic losses and emotional distress, and asks for punitive and other damages.
Klein said he couldn’t comment on the litigation as it works its way through the courts.
The suit says Ryan faced no discipline from Klein or the city for the shooting. It says Rifle police rely on a state law for their policy on use of deadly force on fleeing felony suspects, but doing so “allows — and in fact causes — police officers to use deadly force against fleeing felons in a manner inconsistent with the requirements of the Fourth Amendment, as prescribed by the Supreme Court.”
It says the state law provides a defense to a criminal charge against an officer using deadly force, but not a defense when it comes to the question of constitutionality.
The suit says Ryan and the second officer also had known of recent suicidal statements and actions by George, but “did not take appropriate precautions when deciding how to contact Mr. George in light of their knowledge of his suicidal intentions. Best modern policing practices would have required that they have an individual accompany them who had training on dealing with individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.”