A wrongful death suit was filed Feb. 25 by the family of Deanne Choate, 53, who was fatally shot by Gardner police officers on March 26, 2015.
The suit, filed in United States District Court by Michele Choate on behalf of all heirs of Deanne Choate, names the City of Gardner, Robert Huff, Justin Mohney and Jeff Breneman, police officers, as defendants.
Police were responding to a 911 call at a home in the 400 block of North Birch Street. The call indicated Deanne was under the influence of alcohol, may be suicidal and had a gun, according to court documents.
According to a press release issued last year by the district attorney’s office, a review was completed on March 26. “It is the determination of the District Attorney that the Gardner Police officer’s use of force was justified under Kansas law,” the release said. “Therefore, no criminal action will be taken against that officer.” The DA’s office cleared officers of wrongdoing in a letter dated May 12, 2015. Officers were not named at the time and were on paid leave during the investigation prior to returning to duty.
According to court documents filed Feb. 25, when police arrived at the scene, the door was opened by Deanne’s boyfriend, Andrew Musto, who was immediately handcuffed and removed from the residence.
“Officers entered the residence and found Deanne sleeping in bed,” court documents say. After waking Deanne, officers asked her repeatedly “where is the gun,” for about eight minutes. They looked under the sheets, and officers said the room had been cleared.
“Officers did not make any effort to restrain Deanne or remove her from the room,” court documents say. “Instead they stayed in the room with the naked 115 pound woman,” before giving her a sweatshirt to wear.
Officers continued to speak in a loud tone asking “where is the gun,” and she “produced” a handgun stating, “oh, here it is.” At that point, officers immediately shot and killed Deanne for complying with their request, according to court documents.
Deanne’s response was reasonable; she never verbally threatened, attacked, assaulted or moved towards officers in any way, the suit says.
“Following the shooting, officers carried the dying, naked Deanne from her bed to the front door with one officer on each arm and one officer holding her legs,” court documents read. The suit further alleges that after the shooting, officers were told to turn off their video and audio recording devices to further protect officers and prevent recording of incriminating evidence.
The suit alleges unnecessarily aggressive behavior and impulsive, reckless and excessive use of deadly force consistent with the GPD’s established training, and also that the city has a practice of authorizing the use of deadly force in the absence of an actual immediate threat and a longstanding policy of hiding a police officer’s excessive use of force.
The suit seeks an unspecified amount in damages. A request for a statement from the Gardner city administrator’s office was not received by press time.