A lawsuit against a Tempe police officer who fatally shot a 19-year-old unarmed black man in 2016 will be allowed to advance in federal court with minimal changes, a United States district judge ruled on September 13.
The ruling is a sign of progress for the family of Dalvin Hollins, the teen who was shot by Lieutenant Edward Ouimette on July 27, 2016, following a robbery.
Hollins’ mother and father, Sarah Coleman and Calvin Hollins, sued the lieutenant, the Tempe Police Department and the city of Tempe in federal court in 2017 after then-Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery declined to criminally charge the officer. Montgomery's decision stirred an outcry from activists and police reformists. Coleman issued a statement at the time saying she was hurt and "fearful about officers being able to continue to violate policies and procedures without consequence — to get away with murder."
There's no dispute that on the morning of the shooting in 2016, Hollins robbed a Walgreens drug store in search of liquid codeine, wearing a mask and telling employees he had a weapon. But he was unarmed when Ouimette shot him in the back in a nearby parking lot minutes later. Wounded, Hollins fled the scene to a maintenance closet in a senior care facility, where he died.
Defendants in the case claim the officer thought Hollins had a gun in his hand, and warned Hollins verbally that he was about to shoot. They say the teen turned away the moment the shot was fired.
Coleman and Hollins, on the other hand, argue that Hollins didn’t have anything that could be confused for a gun and since he was shot in the back, he was either not warned the shot was coming, insufficiently warned, or shot after obeying Ouimette’s command. They’ve said their son, known as Gucci to his friends, had been declared disabled by the state and had his medication changed just prior to the day of the shooting.
In Friday’s ruling, Judge Douglas Rayes declared that all but one of the family’s claims against the city is fair game for discussion in federal court. He dismissed only one argument, that the city didn’t properly train the officer to use a body camera.
A lawyer for the family, Darius Bursh, told Phoenix New Times he is pleased with the ruling and looking forward to the case moving along. Tempe's city attorney's office didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
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Ouimette is now retired, according to Tempe police.
Reverend Jarrett Maupin, who was once dragged away in handcuffs for disobeying police orders while protesting the shooting of Hollins and others by police, said on September 13 that the city has done everything it can to prolong the case.
“We hope to have this thing settled with the city of Tempe,” he said.
The parties are due in court again on September 30 to discuss setting a trial date.