From [HERE] The case against three Charleston police officers accused of using excessive force on a black teenager, whom they misidentified as a suspect in a burglary case, and his toddler cousin last year took another step closer to trial Tuesday morning.
Charissa Watts and Elektra Watts sued the police department, the City of Charleston and the three officers, saying their sons suffered physical injuries and both have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the officers’ actions, including chasing down the teenager and pistol-whipping him in his home, on Feb. 3, 2017.
Kanawha Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey on Tuesday ruled the City of Charleston can’t be held liable for battery.
She also ruled the three officers, Dzenis Nikocevic, Derick Williams, Brandon Burton, as officers can’t be held liable for battery as officers for their actions, but they can be held liable as individuals, independent from the department and their roles therein.
Bailey didn’t rule on a motion from the city, filed by attorney Michael Mullins, to dismiss claims of negligence against the city and the officers.
“If these counts can be dismissed for negligence then our city has a serious problem, our state has a serious problem, our nation has a serious problem,” Michael Cary, representing the Wattses, said during the hearing.
In the lawsuit, Charissa and Elektra Watts said Charissa’s then-15-year-old son, X’Zane Watts, was walking alongside Elektra’s 2-year-old son, Fenix Watts, who was riding in a Power Wheel vehicle, in Charleston on Feb. 3, 2017.
The three officers were traveling on Main Street in Charleston in an unmarked gray vehicle and passed the boys, who were near their home, according to the lawsuit. One of the officers mistook the teenager for a suspect in a recent crime, and the unmarked police vehicle made an abrupt stop and traveled in reverse until it was in front of the teenager and the toddler.
The Wattses said in the suit that the officers weren’t wearing uniforms or obvious identifying information, and did not identify themselves as police as they exited the vehicle with their guns drawn and began yelling at the teenager while running toward him. The teenager picked up his cousin and began running to their home.
The officers eventually tripped the teenager, and he dropped his cousin, but he managed to get inside of his home, according to the lawsuit. The officers followed the teenager into his home, where his mother was in the kitchen, and one of the officers struck the teenager in the head with the gun and pointed the gun at him while yelling expletives at him.
Charissa Watts ran into the living room to find a plainclothes officer holding her son at gunpoint, according to the suit.
During a hearing Tuesday, Michael Cary, representing the Wattses, said one of the other officers came into the home to inform the other officer that the teenager wasn’t their suspect, and that’s when the officer backed away from the teenager.
Charissa Watts originally filed the lawsuit against the city, the department and the then-unnamed officers in July 2017.
In September 2017, Bailey granted a motion to drop the police department as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Earlier this year, the department released the officer’s names, and Charissa Watts, joined by Elektra Watts, filed an amended complaint in the case to include the officers by name in their claims.
The officers and the city remain defendants in the case, which is set to go to trial in March 2019.
The Wattses say their sons’ constitutional rights were violated because the officers targeted the teenager because he was black, and because of the officers’ use of excessive force.
“If the Defendant City of Charleston provided appropriate levels of racial sensitivity training and general officer training, this incident could have been avoided,” Cary said in the lawsuit.
The City of Charleston and the officers dispute the Wattses account of the incident.
The Wattses also claim the officers committed battery against the teenager and that the city was negligent in its hiring and supervision of the officers.
Charissa Watts said her son suffered an elbow fracture in the incident and continues to suffer from nerve damage as a result of the officers’ actions, and she’s missed numerous days and hours of work taking her son to appointments for his arm as well as counseling for his post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Wattses are seeking damages for pain and suffering and medical bills along with punitive damages, attorneys fees and costs.
They also seek to have the officers undergo additional training and education to address the use of excessive force, and they want the City of Charleston to develop policies to prevent such actions in the future, including discipline against the officers named in the lawsuit.