Parents of man killed by Auburn police in 2019 file federal wrongful death lawsuit

Category: Wrongful Death

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The parents of a 26-year-old man killed by Auburn police in 2019 have filed a federal wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit alleging an officer shot Enosa Strickland Jr. in the back of the head while he was lying face down in a parking lot.

The lawsuit also claims that the officer who shot him, Kenneth Lyman, has an extensive history of using force and was carrying an unapproved and “illegal” dagger that he later claimed Strickland, who went by the initials “EJ,” had grabbed and refused to drop during a struggle.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, alleges that Lyman and another officer identified only with the initials “DM,” responded to a domestic disturbance in an apartment parking lot around 1 a.m. on May 20, where a young woman “had apparently rejected EJ’s romantic overtures.”

“EJ was not engaged in any illegal activities or violating any laws,” according to the complaint. “EJ was unarmed. EJ was not arrested.”

The officers, concerned that EJ had had too much to drink, allowed him to call his mother, Kathleen Keliikoa-Strickland. They spoke briefly on the phone, and she agreed to come to the parking lot to drive him home, according to the claim.

“At some point, the interaction between EJ and the officers became strained,” the lawsuit says. “The interaction then became physical after Officer Lyman struck EJ in the face at approximately 1:28 a.m.” According to the lawsuit and the family’s attorney Edward Moore of Seattle, “No warnings, admonitions or cautions were issued by either officer before Officer Lyman chose to punch EJ.”

Moore said the complaint is based on police reports, witness statements and dash-camera audio and video.

Tiffany Lieu, a spokeswoman for Auburn, said the city was aware of the lawsuit but otherwise declined to comment.

The lawsuit alleges Lyman and the other officer tackled EJ, who wound up facedown on the ground and remained in that position throughout the struggle.

“Approximately one minute into the scuffle, Officer Lyman twice attempted to shoot EJ in the back of the head with his firearm. The first time the weapon did not discharge. The second shot fired and ended EJ’s life,” the lawsuit alleges.

An autopsy and evidence at the scene indicated that “EJ was face down on his stomach” when the shot was fired. “Video produced by the City of Auburn contains no evidence that EJ posed an imminent risk of serious harm or death to anyone when Officer Lyman chose to shoot and kill [him],” according to the complaint.

In statements to the media and news accounts, the department said Lyman claimed that EJ had grabbed a knife that had fallen from his uniform and refused to drop it. The lawsuit alleges that knife was “an unauthorized and illegal dagger on his uniform” and alleges it was improperly secured.

The lawsuit quotes the young woman whom EJ had been with as a witness who said, “I heard ‘drop the knife, drop the knife or I’m gonna shoot’,” she said, adding that she then heard Strickland laugh and say, “What knife are you talking about?” Seconds later, she heard a gunshot.

EJ’s mother and father, Enosa Strickland Sr., arrived four minutes later “just in time to see their son’s lifeless body on the pavement, handcuffed, with blood dripping down his head,” the lawsuit said. “They have suffered and continue to suffer significant trauma and emotional distress from witnessing that scene.”

Moore, the attorney, said Lyman has been involved in 14 incidents where force was used.

Eleven days after Strickland was shot, another Auburn police officer, Jeff Nelson, shot and killed 26-year-old Jesse Sarey outside a convenience store. Nelson claimed Sarey had grabbed a knife that was on his uniform vest during a scuffle and then shot Sarey in the stomach. As Sarey collapsed, video showed that he tried to fire a second round; however, his firearm malfunctioned. Nelson cleared the jammed round and then shot Sarey a second time in the head, according to court documents.

King County prosecutors have charged Nelson with murder and assault for that homicide, only the third time in the past 40 years that an officer in Washington state has ever been charged with murder. His trial is pending.

The city of Auburn settled a claim filed by Sarey’s family for $4 million, according to documents obtained from the Washington Cities Insurance Authority. The city paid $1.25 million to the family of another man killed by Nelson, Isaiah Obet, a week before Nelson was charged.

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