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Family of man shot by Mpls police wins $1.8M award

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Dominic Felder and daughters
In this undated photo, Dominic Felder is shown with his two daughters, D'Azhane and Destiny Felder.
Submitted photo

A federal court jury on Monday awarded slightly more than $1.8 million to the family of a man who was shot and killed by two Minneapolis police officers in 2006. 

The jury found officers Jason King and Lawrence Loonsfoot used excessive force when they shot Dominic Felder seven times. Felder, who was unarmed, was believed to be having a nervous breakdown. 

The jury of eight women and four men deliberated for not quite a full day before reaching the  verdict. The jurors found both officers liable for excessive force, assault and battery. 

They awarded slightly more than $1 million to Dominic Felder's family for their loss. And they awarded the family another $800,000 in punitive damages -- $400,000 per officer. Attorneys fees have not yet been calculated, but they will likely push the total cost of the award to more than $2 million. 

The officers were not in the courtroom when the verdicts were announced. The plaintiff in the case, Dominic Felder's mother Katie, was also absent. A source close to the family said the Felders aren't ready to talk to the media. 

Attorney Jim Behrenbrinker said when Katie Felder came to him four years ago with the lawsuit, she wasn't looking for a lot of money, she wanted justice for her son.

"She wanted to send a message to the Minneapolis Police Department that that sort of thing has to stop," said Behrenbrinker. "That no more moms should lose their kids; no more brothers and sisters should lose their big brother, and no more little girls should be losing their daddy to police officers that are out of control -- police officers who are making poor decisions on the street." 

"[Katie Felder] wanted to send a message to the Minneapolis Police Department that that sort of thing has to stop."

Officers King and Loonsfoot had been cleared of criminal charges by a grand jury. A police internal investigation also found that the officers were justified in the shooting. Behrenbrinker said he's not sure those investigations included the same kind of examination of the evidence that this jury performed.

During the trial, Behrenbrinker and co-counsel Doug Micko presented two forensic experts who concluded that the officers' accounts of the shooting clashed with the evidence. 

One expert recreated the shooting using the autopsy report, which found that some of the bullets which hit Felder struck him from behind. The officers claimed they fired at the front of Felder's body. The officers also claimed Felder grabbed officer King's gun during a struggle. But there were no palm prints or fingerprints from Felder on the gun.

On the night of the shooting, King and Loonsfoot responded to a domestic violence call. They believed that a man matching Felder's description had threatened to kill his girlfriend and her child. 

The officers said they repeatedly saw Felder reaching into his waistband as if he had a gun. Minneapolis city attorney Susan Segal says considering the circumstances, the officers were justified in shooting Felder. 

"Obviously the jury disagreed with that," said Segal. "And we'll need to evaluate and review what happened in the case, and what options we now have."

Segal added the city is considering an appeal. The city was not named as a defendant in the case, but it's the city which is responsible for paying the damages, not the officers. 

Segal also said in this case, the plaintiffs had a lower standard of proof. In a civil case, the plaintiffs have to prove a preponderance of evidence -- meaning they have to convince the jury that it is more likely than unlikely the officers used excessive force.

Segal said the city and the police department are always trying to learn from past experience, and trying to avoid future mistakes. 

"Obviously there was a tragic result in this case," she said. "So that's a continual process. And the police department is continually evaluating their use of force policies."

As it stands, the judgment in the Felder case ranks among the highest payouts in a lawsuit stemming from officer misconduct in Minneapolis. 

The largest payment, $4.5 million, came from a 2003 settlement to police officer Duy Ngo, who was mistakenly shot by another police officer while working undercover.