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$28 Million Awarded in Excessive Force Verdict in Police Killing of Child

A federal jury in Pittsburgh has awarded the family of a 12-year-old who was shot and killed by two Pennsylvania state troopers. The shooting occurred on Christmas Eve, 2002.

The jury’s verdict followed a two week trial. As state troopers Samuel Nassan and Juan Curry were responding to reports of a stolen Ford Bronco, they saw the vehicle as it turned from a nearby alley. They said that as Nassan approached the vehicle with his weapon drawn, he told the driver to get out.

Instead, the driver put the vehicle in reverse, coming to a stop by hitting a house. From here, the facts are in conflict. Nassan and Curry contended that 12-year-old Michael Ellerbe ran from the vehicle with his hand in his pocket, leading them to believe he had a weapon. They say when Curry’s gun went off, Nassan shot Michael in the back, severing his spine and ripping his aorta. He died quickly at the scene.

Witnesses say that Michael fled the vehicle with several other youths and was not driving, which contradicts the state troopers’ version. In addition, those witnesses did not see Michael’s hand in his pocket. The witnesses also said there were two or three shots, not one.

The jury’s verdict determined there were at least two shots and that neither was accidental. It awarded $4 million for Michael’s pain and suffering. It also awarded $24 million for each trooper’s use of excessive force. See: Hickenbottom v. Hassan, USDC, W.D. Penn., No. 03-223.

Michael’s family was represented by Michigan civil rights attorney Geoffrey Fieger and Bob Giroux of Fieger, Fieger, Kenney, Johnson, and Giroux, along with Pittsburgh attorney Joel Sansone.

Michael’s father, Michael Hickenbottom, was pleased the truth came out that his son was unjustifiably killed by police. “The only question left in Michael’s mind after the verdict was that we know the ‘what’ of what happened, but we don’t know the ‘why,’” said Giroux. “He’s asking himself, ‘why did these officers fire single shots at my son from behind when all he was doing is running away? What was the thing that caused them to do that? Was it really that he was going to get away and they couldn’t accept that?’”

Both state and federal authorities have declined to press charges against the troopers, who both continue in their jobs, on grounds there is lack of evidence. Source: Pennsylvania Law Weekly

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