Phoenix police sued for splitting man’s head open during welfare check | Phoenix New Times


Phoenix police sued for splitting man’s head open during welfare check

Nine Phoenix police officers face a lawsuit for allegedly beating a man so severely that he required hospitalization.
Nine Phoenix police officers performed a welfare check in 2022 that ended in the alleged assault of Stephen Shere.
Nine Phoenix police officers performed a welfare check in 2022 that ended in the alleged assault of Stephen Shere. Matt Hennie
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It all started with what was supposed to be a welfare check.

Phoenix police officers were dispatched to Stephan Shere's apartment on Oct. 4, 2022, after his sister called 911 and reported being worried that Shere was suicidal.

What happened next resulted in Shere being hospitalized, after which police charged him with seven counts of aggravated assault before jailing him for two days.

The welfare check gone very wrong is detailed in a lawsuit filed Oct. 3 in Maricopa County Superior Court. It accused nine officers, police Chief Michael Sullivan and the city of excessive force that violated Shere's constitutional rights, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, failing to intervene and negligent hiring.

Shere previously had been diagnosed with PTSD and allegedly was having a mental breakdown when police checked on him, according to the lawsuit. Officers arrived at Shere’s apartment armed with Tasers, less lethal shotguns filled with beanbags and a ballistic shield.

At first, Shere chose not to allow the officers into his home. Because Shere was not being arrested, he legally had the right to not engage with officers, the lawsuit stated.

“I closed the door on him the first time, but I felt that was rude, so I wanted to go out there,” Shere told Phoenix New Times in an interview.

When Shere opted to open the door, he looked around the corner into the hallway and spotted several armed officers.

“That’s when everything changed,” Shere said.
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A Phoenix police officer carries a ballistics shield in the downtown homeless encampment called the Zone in May.
Katya Schwenk

Lawsuit: Beaten, tazed without provocation

Upon seeing the armed officers, Shere retreated back into his apartment. Officers then proceeded to knock on his door as they tried to cajole Shere into letting them into the residence, the lawsuit alleged.

When Shere finally relented and opened his door, his service dog, a brindle pit bull named Max, wrestled free of Shere and ran into the hallway.

According to the lawsuit, once Max escaped, officers discharged their weapons and struck Shere with both a Taser and beanbags.

“I tried to get my dog back and they shot me with the Taser and the beanbag, I believe at the same time,” Shere said. “And then once I fell to the ground, they ran up to me with the ballistic shield and hit me on the head with it. That split my head open and caused me to black out.”

The officer who used the ballistic shield, Daniel Snyder, wrote in his incident report that “Stephan’s head started to raise back up, and the ballistic shield struck his head.”

Shere was taken to a hospital to treat his injuries, then he was jailed for two days.

According to the lawsuit, Shere was charged with seven counts of aggravated assault “under the pretense that (Shere) sent his dog, Max, out to attack” the officers. However, incident reports from the involved officers indicated that Max was docile and friendly.

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office dropped all seven charges against Shere on Oct. 6, 2022.
click to enlarge Michael Sullivan
Phoenix police Chief Michael Sullivan has been named as a defendant in an excessive use of force lawsuit.
Matt Hennie

‘Unwarranted, reckless force’

The lawsuit alleged that three of the officers — Snyder, Christopher Gitsch and Eric Summerville — "objectively used excessive force" against Shere. The suit stated that other officers listed as defendants failed to prevent fellow officers from “using unwarranted, reckless force.”

Shere was unarmed at the time of the incident, according to the lawsuit.

“Instead of trying to defuse the situation and ensure Shere was safe, police officers escalated the contact to the point of physically attacking (Shere),” the lawsuit stated. “With no provocation, Stephan was beaten and tased by officers — sustaining physical and mental injuries that could be life-long.”

The lawsuit argued that Phoenix police continue to use excessive force instead of de-escalation techniques.

“If de-escalation was truly a priority, (Shere) would not have sustained injuries,” the lawsuit stated.

The suit asked for a jury trial, damages "to punish the wrongful conduct alleged" in the lawsuit, and attorneys and court fees

Sgt. Phil Krynsky, a spokesperson for the Phoenix Police Department, said on Nov. 27 that the city is aware of the suit but hasn't yet been formally served with it.

The lawsuit comes as the agency remains under a two-year investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for excessive use of force, among other suspected civil rights violations.

Phoenix police officers have shot and killed 11 people so far this year. Officers were also involved in five other fatal incidents. In some of those cases, the Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner determined that the deaths were not caused by officers.
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