A federal court jury in Seattle has awarded nearly $15 million to the family and 9-year-old son of a man who a SWAT sniper shot and killed in Fife, WA, finding police had no reason to use deadly force.
According to the court clerk, the award includes:
▪ $3 million in punitive damages against current Lakewood Police Chief Mike Zaro, who was the SWAT commander during the 2013 standoff.
▪ $1.5 million in punitive damages against Lakewood police Officer Michael Wiley, who led an assault on the home and shot the family’s dog.
▪ $2 million in punitive damages against Lakewood police Sgt. Brian Markert, the sniper who shot Thomas from 90 feet away.
The award is one of the largest ever in a police use-of-force and wrongful death lawsuit in the state’s history.
Thomas was shot outside his home when he grabbed for his son after Wiley’s team used explosives to enter the home. Attorneys for his family contended Thomas was about to hand the child over to his grandmother.
Attorneys for the officers and city defendants told the jury in their opening statements that Thomas was playing games with police and using his son as a “pawn.”
Lawyer Richard Jolley told the jury that, despite Thomas’ promise at the end of four tense hours of negotiations that he would let the boy go — even taking a backpack of clothes and a car seat onto the front porch — he had no real intention of doing so.
“He had used his son as a bargaining chip,” said Jolley, who referred to the child as a “hostage” and questioned whether Thomas had planned to use the boy as a “human shield.”
“Leonard left Officer Brian Markert no choice but to shoot,” he said.
It was discovered after the shooting that Thomas was not armed, the News-Tribune reports.