The family of an unarmed Native American man killed by Lakewood Police in 2015 is suing the city in federal court. The complaint accuses the department of racial bias and negligence in its training.
Daniel Covarrubias was a member of the Suquamish tribe and had been diagnosed with serious mental illness.
Three years ago he was approached by police after he was reported trespassing in a lumber yard. Lakewood police officers shot Covarrubias, saying they mistook his cell phone for a gun.
But the lawsuit said that claim was "concocted by the defendants and their union-appointed counsel" after the fact.
"Several witnesses could clearly identify that at one point he was holding a cell phone," said Gabe Galanda, a Seattle attorney who represents Covarrubias' family. "However, the cops claim that they saw him suddenly reach for 'something,' and that 'something' later became a gun.”
The Pierce County prosecutor found the shooting justified. The city declined to comment on the suit.
Lakewood Police Chief Mike Zaro told reporters in 2015, “I’m not going to ask our officers to stand there with a gun pointed at them, or what they believe to be a gun pointed at them, and not take actions to defend their lives.”
Daniel Covarrubias’s mother, Marilyn Covarrubias, said she’s trying to prevent other families from having to live through this. She became active with the group De-Escalate Washington to pass legislation that makes it easier to prosecute officers for negligent shootings.
She said her family is still devastated.
“We had to put most of the kids in therapy because they couldn’t get over it, they couldn’t get beyond it, " she said. "It’s something that stays with you. And they were having nightmares.”
The Lakewood Police Department has a dedicated team for mental health cases. But the complaint says that team wasn’t contacted until after Daniel Covarrubias died.
The lawsuit comes in the wake of one of the largest verdicts in state history against the same police department. In January a federal judge upheld a $15 million verdict against Lakewood for the shooting of an unarmed African-American man.
The police department settled another lawsuit in 2014 after failing to turn over a document suggesting an officer was engaged in racial profiling.