By John Sharp

John Sharp
JAWAN DALLAS NEWS CONFERENCE, DEC.11,2023 –Attorney Harry Daniels speaks during a news conference on Monday, Dec. 11, 2023, to introduce a federal lawsuit seeking $36 million in damages from the City of Mobile related to the July 2, 2023, death of Jawan Dallas following an encounter with two Mobile police officers. Also pictured from left to right: (standing behind Daniels, attorney Roderick Van Daniel; Jawan Dallas’ mother and father, Phil Williams and Christine Dallas; and attorney Ben Crump).

A federal wrongful death lawsuit filed Monday seeks $36 million in damages against the City of Mobile related to the July 2 death of Jawan Dallas following an encounter with two Mobile police officers in Theodore.

The lawsuit seeks a monetary damage that matches Dallas’ age of 36. It was introduced by a team of civil rights attorneys during a morning news conference at Government Plaza and comes 19 days after the Dallas family – following over four months of requests to view the police-worn body cam footage of the encounter – was finally able to do so on Nov. 22.

It also comes at a time that Dallas’ death has ignited a rise in criticism directed at Mobile police and city officials at city council meetings over the handling of the case, culminating in a rally Thursday to support the Dallas family and their attorneys.

“This is a federal lawsuit that is not just about the video, but the death of a human being,” said Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney who has been the go-to lawyer for families of Black people killed by police and others including George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Tyre Nichols, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor.

“A young man was tased 13 times,” said Crump, echoing previous calls from attorneys and family members for Mobile police to publicly release body cam footage of the encounter, which have been repeatedly denied.

“There is no question the video is bad,” Crump said. “It makes the police officers look like people murdering an unarmed Black man. That’s why they don’t want to release it and sweep this under the rug.”

‘Emblematic of the moment’

The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama in Mobile and alleges the agency’s “unconstitutional” policies allowing police officers to demand identification cards/driver’s licenses from people who are not suspect of any criminal activity as the “driving force” and the “catalyst” that led to “an unlawful detention of Jawan, which ultimately led to his untimely death.”

The lawsuit also alleges that the police violated Dallas’ constitutional rights that protects people from illegal searches and seizures, and claims police used unlawful force against him.

“While he was being assault, he said ‘I don’t want be like George Floyd,’” said attorney Lee Merritt, referring to the Black man whose death during an encounter with a white police officer ignited protests across the country in 2020 over policy brutality and racial injustice. Derek Chauvin, the police officer convicted of killing Floyd, is serving a 21-year prison sentence.

Dallas, according to Atlanta-based civil rights attorney Harry Daniels, can be heard pleading out on the video that he “can’t breathe” and that he did not want to end up like Floyd.

Jawan Dallas news conference, Dec. 11, 2023
Civil rights attorney Lee Merritt speaks during a news conference on Monday, Dec. 11, 2023, at Mobile’s Government Plaza. The conference was held to introduce a federal lawsuit seeking $36 million in damages from the City of Mobile related to the July 2, 2023, death of Jawan Dallas following an encounter with two Mobile police officers.John Sharp

“We decided our response needs to emblematic of the moment we are in,” Merritt said. “No other nation kills or incarcerates citizens more (than the United States).”

Merritt, who is representing Reggie Ray — the Black man who wielded a folding chair during the Riverboat brawl in Montgomery — said a federal civil case can only seek out monetary damages. In addition to the $36 million request, the Dallas family is also seeking economic losses and “special damages in an amount to be determined at trial.”

But Merritt also said that the lawsuit goes after “the policies and procedures” of the Police Department, and that taxpayers are on the hook.

“The only way to avoid these lawsuits is not to complain about the family filing it, but to go to city officials and your elected representatives and let them know we demand transparency, we demand accountability, and a change in the policies that led to this litigation,” he said.

Daniels also said the case could produce the body cam footage for a jury to review and will also result in the public disclosure of the investigation reports by the Mobile Police Department, noting that attorneys have the “power of federal subpoena.”

The police department’s reports provided to the family, Daniels said, included redacted names of the two police officers. They are referred to as John Doe 1 and John Doe 2 in the lawsuit. The city denied in October a public records request from AL.com seeking the personnel files, disciplinary histories and current employment status of the officers who interacted with Dallas on July 2.

The City of Mobile, late Monday, sent out a statement late Monday that took issue with Daniels calling “into question the character of our police chief by claiming he lied” to the public during a July 7 press conference, a few days after the July 2 confrontation.

Daniels, during Monday’s news conference, accused Mobile Police Chief Paul Prine of lying in his initial statements about the case. The federal lawsuit claims that Prine “knowingly provided a false narrative to the public” regarding the details of a 911 call about the original incident, which was an unlawful trespassing complaint.

The city released the 911 call and the subsequent dispatch of two of our police officers to the Theodore location.

“The information provided by the operator to the 911 caller and the responding officer was the same information that Chief Paul Prince relayed to the media and the members of the public during his press conference on July 7, 2023,” said Rob Lasky, executive director of public safety for the City of Mobile.

The 911 caller described a “Black male” wearing a “red” or “reddish shirt” and “red pants” to the 911 dispatcher with the Mobile County 911 Center. The caller then told the dispatcher with the Mobile Police Department that the man had “walked up the road up there, to it looked like trailer 27.”

Dallas, the city noted, was wearing red, short pants when police encountered him near trailer 27. Daniels claimed that police arbitrarily stopped at trailer 27, which was not location of the original call.

‘Greater mistrust’

Jawan Dallas’ family is suing alleging that Dallas “was accosted, beating [sic] and excessively tased and drive-stun by two members of the Mobile, Alabama Police Department” and that “he was under no suspicion of committing any criminal activity.”(Contributed)

Crump said transparency is a concern with the handling of the case, and others like it throughout the U.S.

“This whole issue of communities of color and law enforcement is about mistrust,” Crump said. “The way you resolve mistrust is first you have to have transparency. Then you have accountability and then you get to trust. But if they won’t be transparent, then that means they don’t want accountability and that fuels even greater mistrust.”

The two officers were allowed to return to their patrols in October, and Mobile County District Attorney Keith Blackwood announced last month that a grand jury had concluded its investigation and found they did nothing illegal.

Blackwood, in his news conference last month, said an autopsy report showed that Dallas died from “underlying medical conditions,” and not Tasing.

Blackwood also said that Dallas “initiated” a struggle with police, which Daniels called a “damned lie.”

John Burris, a civil rights attorney in Oakland, Calif., accused the police officers of misusing a weapon “that is supposed to be non-lethal,” calling the deployment of a Taser on Dallas as “murder.”

The federal lawsuit blamed the officers for actions that “fell below the response” of what is expected from a “skilled or proficient officer.”

“The use of a Taser can be a deadly weapon,” Burris said.

Blackwood, last month, said a toxicology report showed two different drugs in Dallas’ system at the time of the incident: mojo, a synthetic cannabinoid, and some sort of amphetamine.

Daniels has since said that throughout the body cam video, Dallas appeared to be coherent. The federal lawsuit also said that “at no time did Jawan give the appearance through speech or otherwise that he was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”

Dallas, when he was approached by police, denied any involvement with a burglary or trespass. He was with an unidentified white man at the time, and was away from the trailer park where the initial complaint occurred at 5413 Carol Plantation Road.

The federal case also accuses investigators for not investigating a female eyewitness, who was at the scene. The lawsuit also says the 911 caller and his female companion disclosed to other responding officers on July 2 that the beating and tasing of Dallas “was excessive and unnecessary.”

The 911 caller and his companion also confirmed that Dallas was not the person who was on their property, which was the subject of their 911 call, the lawsuit states.

“Instead of our victims saying ‘I don’t want to end up like the last victim (of a violent encounter with police) we want our officers saying, “We don’t want to end up like Derek Chauvin,’ or ‘I don’t want to end up in prison my whole life’ or ‘I don’t want a team of attorneys coming down to turn my city upside down and file a $36 million lawsuit’ which we will be successful,” Merritt said. “This is our response to the terrorism directed at our community.”