A jury in Seattle, Washington, recently awarded $15 million to the family of a Black man who was killed by a S.W.A.T. sniper. The settlement is the largest monetary award in the state’s history due to police brutality. The victim, Leonard Thomas, was shot and killed while holding his son, who was 4-years-old at the time.
The circumstances leading up to Thomas’ death began on May 23, 2013, with a domestic dispute between his mother and himself. Thomas who was known to be bipolar, was reportedly drunk on the night of the incident. As his mother used her cellphone to call 911 due to his behavior, Thomas grabbed the phone out of her hand.
Thomas’ actions, described as a misdemeanor at best, lead law enforcement to respond with a force of 27 police officers, which included the Pierce Metro SWAT team, and two armored vehicles.
According to the family’s lawyer, Tiffany Cartwright, the hours-long standoff was “that close” to being resolved peacefully. Thomas had appeared on the porch with his son, the child’s backpack, and car seat – ready to hand the child over to his grandmother.
A police commander ordered officers not to let Thomas back into the home after the handoff. While Thomas was still outside, the SWAT team blew open the back door with an explosive device, and killed the family dog, shooting it at least four times.
Thomas’ lawyers contend he was startled by the explosion and instinctively grabbed his son, in an effort to protect his child. While holding his son, a SWAT sniper shot Thomas in the abdomen with what the officer later described in his report as a “frickin’ million-dollar shot.”
A seven-member jury in Seattle returned a verdict that said the local police had overreacted to a minor domestic dispute. The jury saw evidence that Thomas spoke defiantly if not belligerently to the police, but made no threats and repeatedly said he was unarmed.
The police department for Lakewood, Washington, the city in which the shooting took place, contend that Thomas was using his son as a shield and was holding him hostage. Thomas’ son, who is now 9-years-old, contradicts this account by saying, “I think he was trying to protect me.”
After the verdict, the Lakewood police department took to their Facebook page to issue the following statement: “The fact that 7 jurors believed the portrayal of us as lying, racist murderers is both incomprehensible and demoralizing. We once again find ourselves in the position of expressing our gratitude to the citizens of Lakewood.”
Thomas’s last words as he laid bleeding to death from the sniper’s bullet were, “Don’t hurt my boy.”