Plaintiffs' lawyer Sarah Gelsomino and members of the Stewart family outside Euclid City Hall Monday.
By KENNETH D. MILLER
On Monday Oct. 9, roughly seven months after 23-year old Luke Stewart was fatally shot by Euclid Police while in his car, lawyers representing his family announced the filing of a federal civil rights lawsuit at Euclid City Hall.
The case was filed in The family of an unarmed black driver fatally shot by a white police officer in suburban Cleveland filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Euclid, its police department and two officers involved.
Lawyers for 23-year-old Luke Stewart filed the lawsuit in Northern District Court on Monday.
Euclid police officers Matthew Rhodes and his partner, Louis Catalani, were responding to a call about a suspicious vehicle. They found Stewart was in the car, idling on a residential street. Stewart began driving away when the officers arrived.
Rhodes got in Stewart’s the car, where he shot Stewart, who was unarmed.
The plaintiffs allege that Euclid police officer Rhodes used unjustified force when he shot Stewart five times on the morning of March 13. The suit argues Euclid is responsible for policies and practices that led to Stewart's death, which further inflamed the city's racial tensions.
Earlier this year Rhodes was cleared of any wrongdoing in the fatal shooting of Stewart.
The Ohio Attorney General's Office presented evidence to a grand jury, who chose not to indict the officer.
The Stewart Family released the following:
"On March 13, 2017, Euclid Police Officer Matthew Rhodes, Badge #39, shot and killed Luke O.
Stewart, age 23. Mr. Stewart was unarmed and inside a vehicle when Officer Rhodes beat, tased, and shot him multiple times. He suffered three gunshot wounds to his chest, one to his neck, and one to his wrist. He is survived by his mother, grandmother, two young children, siblings and cousins.
The lawsuit seeks not only to redress the wrongful and unjustified death of Luke Stewart but to hold the City of Euclid responsible for the unlawful policies and practices which caused his death and the rampant unjustified use of excessive force against other civilians in Euclid, particularly against African Americans. These policies and practices include the failure to properly investigate and discipline officer misconduct and the police code of silence."
The city has not yet responded.
Sarah Gelsomino, a lawyer for Stewart’s family, said the lawsuit is also meant to show a pattern of excessive force at the Euclid Police Department.
“We’ll have an opportunity to receive discovery from lots of supervisors and trainers about policies and training, curriculum, how officers are disciplined, how civilian complaints are handled," Gelsomino said.
In August, a grand jury declined to charge Rhodes. That same month, cell phone video showed another Euclid officer violently arresting a black motorist who did not appear to be resisting.
During a press conference Monday outside Euclid City Hall, Stewart’s mother, Mary Stewart, became emotional as she described the challenge of getting over her son’s death.
“And it’s just so unfair. It’s just so unreal," Stewart said. "I can’t believe it. I ask myself everyday, ‘Is this real? Did this really happen? Why? Why?’”
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.