Editor's note: The attached video is provided by the Chicago law firm which has filed the lawsuit against area law enforcement and contains interpretation of the events by that firm. It is unclear whether the video has been otherwise edited. It is not edited by The News.
The family of a Newton man shot and killed in an August 2017 confrontation with police has filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the McPherson and Harvey County Sheriff’s Departments, the City of Newton, and several officers involved in the incident along Interstate 135.
The family of William Matthew Holmes and their attorneys scheduled a 2 p.m. press conference today in front of the United States Courthouse in Wichita to announce the suit. The Chicago-based law firm involved, however, released an edited video of the incident, as well as a copy of the lawsuit.
McPherson County Attorney Greg Benefiel in January released a review of the law enforcement use of deadly force in the shooting and beating of Holmes, 24, finding insufficient evidence to say officers violated any laws.
The Aug. 28, 2017, incident began in Newton with a 911 call for service regarding a vehicle burglary in progress. Newton Police located a suspect vehicle and attempted to stop it. Instead, the vehicle fled northbound on I-135, reaching speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour.
Officers deployed “stop sticks” twice during the incident, eventually causing the vehicle to stop in the highway median after one of its tires disintegrated. Officers from all three law enforcement agencies surrounded the car with weapons drawn and ordered the driver out.
According to Benefiel’s report, after Holmes, who was the driver, exited the vehicle with hands raised, officers deployed two beanbag rounds and a Taser, but the driver “showed no compliance reaction.” At that point, Newton Police Cpl. Anthony Hawpe released a K-9, Bella, to engage Holmes. Holmes kicked at the dog, which the officer ordered back before tackling Holmes.
As they struggled on the ground, Hawpe yelled for other officers to “watch my gun.” According to Benefiel’s report, McPherson County Sheriffs Deputy Chris Somers perceived the driver to be trying to get Hawpe’s weapon and shot Holmes in the back. At almost the same time a Harvey County Sheriff’s deputy struck Holmes with the butt-end of a shotgun.
Not knowing he’d been shot, Hawpe continued to fight Holmes, striking him in the face area six or seven times, the investigative report states. Newton Police Officer Skyler Hinton also hit the driver several times with Asp “to gain control.” As Hinton struck the driver, Somers called out that Holmes was hit and disabled.
The entire incident, from the time the vehicle stopped in the median to the time Somers fired the single shot, took 3 minutes and 11 seconds, according to the prosecutor’s report. From the time the driver exited the vehicle to when Holmes was shot was just 21 seconds, and only 12 seconds after Hawpe tackled the driver.
“Although Mr. Holmes had fled from the police, immediately before the shooting, he exited his car slowly with his hands up,” the statement from the law firm Loevy & Loevy stated in a news release. “Despite clear signs of surrender, Defendant Hawpe attacked him, including using a police dog as a weapon.”
Even after he was shot, the statement notes, officers continued to attack Holmes, hitting him in the head with the butt of a shotgun, punch him and repeatedly hit him with a club “as Mr. Holmes lay dying….”
“Not only did the officers not render Mr. Holmes any aid while he lingered before dying, but they can be heard laughing on videotape while doing nothing to help,” the statement continues. “To make matters worse, they attempted to cover-up their wrongdoing by turning off their bodycams, perhaps a violation of their departments’ policy. Police film of the attack shows that Officer Somers lied when he falsely claimed that Holmes was reaching for a weapon.”
The law firm's statement charges that the Newton Police Department has been accused several times before of using excessive force, citing five previous suits, “but that people of color are disproportionately the victims of these assaults. Moreover, some of the officers personally knew Mr. Holmes and knew that he suffered from schizophrenia, but took no actions to de-escalate the conflict.”
The suit was filed on behalf of Holmes’ mother, Wendy Couser.
It was unclear if the video released by the law firm, which contains interpretation by the defense about what is occurring, is otherwise edited.
A copy of the suit can be found at http://hutch.news/HolmesSuit.