The Stritmatter Firm resolved a police shooting lawsuit against the City of Auburn and former Officer Kenneth Lyman. The settlement is the highest settlement paid by the City to resolve an excessive use of force claim against the Auburn Police Department or its officers.
On May 20, 2019, EJ Strickland was shot point blank in the back of the head as he lay face down on the ground, pinned beneath two police officers. Officer Lyman claimed Mr. Strickland had somehow obtained the fixed-blade knife that Lyman carried on the external vest of his uniform, in violation of Auburn Police Department Policy.
Lyman used the presence of the knife as the justification to shoot and kill Mr. Strickland, who was otherwise unarmed. At the time, Mr. Strickland’s parents were on their way to pick him up. They pulled up to the scene less than five minutes after their son was shot to death.
The case posed many challenges:
- Excessive force claims against the police are challenging claims, rife with legal technicality and many legal protections for officers;
- Mr. Strickland was intoxicated, and the defendants clearly intended to leverage this point as much as possible;
- Mr. Strickland is not alive to testify on his own behalf;
- The officers failed to activate their dashcam audio before or during the event, and thus there is no audio documentation of the incident, including corroboration of key verbal exchanges during the incident;
- The internal investigations of the incident were inadequate and failed to gather or analyze key evidence, which is now gone.
During our investigation and litigation of the case, the Strickland Team uncovered significant evidence to show that the Auburn Police Department routinely allowed its officers to engage in inappropriate use of force and forego de-escalation tactics, resulting in injuries and death to civilians. The Department failed to investigate use of force, and failed to adequately discipline excessive use of force, and multiple officers appeared to have lengthy use of force histories that had resulted in citizen complaints, lawsuits, and even criminal charges. Officer Lyman had an extensive use of force history with the Department, had been found in violation of Department policy, and had never been disciplined.
The Strickland family came to The Stritmatter Firm looking for answers – how their son was killed, why their son was killed. And they wanted to feel like the City acknowledged its conduct and the conduct of its officers. Through this lawsuit and the ultimate settlement, we were able to give the Strickland family this type of closure. And while it will never replace their son, the message is that his life mattered.