Families of Dallas Cops Killed by Sniper Sue to Shield Records

March 12, 2018
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – Relatives of four Dallas police officers killed by a sniper in 2016 sued the city Friday to block the release of records about the officers’ injuries and deaths, seeking to protect themselves from more trauma.

The plaintiffs include Susan Ehlke and Frank Krol, parents of Officer Michael Krol; Heidi Smith, widow of Officer Michael J. Smith; Kristy Villasenor, widow of Officer Patrick Zamarripa; and Emily Crawford, widow of Dallas Area Rapid Transit Officer Brent Thompson.

Officer Lorne Ahrens was also killed in the July 2016 ambush. His family is not a party to the lawsuit, which was filed in Dallas County District Court by lead attorney David Watsky of the Dallas firm Lyon Gorsky.

The five officers were killed and 11 others were injured when a local man armed with a rifle opened fire on a peaceful protest and march against police brutality in downtown Dallas. Police say Michael Xavier Johnson was upset about several other police shootings in the news and “wanted to kill white people.”

He later barricaded himself inside the campus of El Centro College on Main Street and was killed when a police bomb robot detonated an explosive near him.

Since the shooting, the plaintiffs say there have been multiple requests by the public and news media under the Texas Public Information Act for records about their relatives’ “fatal injuries, wounds and deaths” and that action to compel Dallas to release the information has been taken.

“If released, the fallen officers’ sensitive death records will undoubtedly become the subject of sensational stories, articles, and headlines published by the media in print, on television, and on the internet,” the eight-page complaint states. “If released, it is virtually certain that plaintiffs and the fallen officers’ children will be exposed to sensitive death records … it would be significantly more traumatic to see these depictions over and over again on television, the internet, or social media, and it would be truly devastating and horrifying to know the public would have access to see, hear, or witness any part of their loved ones’ deaths.”

The surviving family members claim they have a right to privacy in sensitive death records under the Texas Constitution, a common law right to privacy, and a right to prohibit disclosure of confidential information under the Texas Government Code.

They say Dallas has not yet released any information about the ambush, but that city policies “allow wide discretion” regarding disclosure of various types of records.

The Dallas city attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a telephone request for comment Monday afternoon.

The plaintiffs seek an injunction against the city and a declaratory judgment that they have the right to control the sensitive death records at issue. One of their attorneys, Bob Gorsky, did not immediately respond Monday to an email request for comment.

From Courthouse News.


Officer’s Widow Sues Dallas to Keep Death Video Private

May 31, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – The widow of a Dallas police officer killed in an ambush at a peaceful protest against police brutality last year sued the city on Tuesday to block the release of video of his final moments and prevent “grave harm” to her children.

Katrina Ahrens sued Dallas and Dallas County in Federal Court on privacy and constitutional claims. Her husband, Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, was among the five police officers killed on July 7 when a gunman opened fire near El Centro College on the west side of downtown Dallas. Nine other officers and two civilians were injured.

Ahrens says the defendants refused her request to not disclose graphic video of the final moments of her husband’s life, to which she was granted access.

“She viewed, for instance, detailed digital video footage of her husband being shot roughly thirteen times in various parts of his body, suffering through the slow process of dying, and then speaking his last words before her eyes,” the 12-page complaint states.

“As any reasonable person would expect, viewing these records was extremely painful and upsetting, gut wrenching, and devastating to her. Even watching the videos in seclusion caused her severe mental and emotional distress.”

Ahrens says her young children will almost certainly be exposed to the upsetting material if it is released: One of her children already is searching his father’s name online for images and articles.

She says media outlets have asked the defendants for information that “specifically relates to the fatal injuries, wounds, and death” of her husband, including “sensitive death records” evidence the city has shared with county attorneys.

“The city has stated it has not, to its knowledge, released any information related to its criminal investigation of the July 7 attack, but that it intends to produce materials including sensitive death records once its investigation is closed,” the complaint states.

Ahrens says she sued after the city refused her request to not release the information, citing privacy rights under the U.S. Constitution, the Texas Constitution, common law, and the Texas Public Information Act.

She also claims that the city intercepted, seized and read mail that was sent to her after her husband’s death, without her consent. She says this violates her rights under the Fourth Amendment, Texas Constitution and common law. In one case, the city gave her a letter in February from a local community center inviting her to an awards gala and Martin Luther King Jr. parade — in January.

“But because the plaintiff received the letter two months after it was dated, she was – by no fault of her own – unaware of the gala honoring her late husband,” the complaint states. “This, of course, reflects negatively on plaintiff, who would have gladly attended the gala and parade had she been aware.”

Ahrens said that some mail was diverted to the office of former Police Chief David Brown.

“Plaintiff has been told mail sometimes sat unattended in his office for so long that charitably donated checks could no longer be cashed due to the passage of time,” the complaint states.

Ahrens is represented by Casey Griffith with Griffith Bates in Dallas.

Police said the suspect, Micah X. Johnson, was killed when a bomb disposal squad detonated explosives near him several hours after the ambush. Johnson served in the Army Reserve in Afghanistan and allegedly targeted white police officers in retaliation for several high-profile shootings of unarmed black men.

From Courthouse News.

Dallas Cop Sues Black Lives Matter Leaders

September 20, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – A Dallas police officer sued leaders and alleged supporters of Black Lives Matter, blaming them for inciting violence towards police officers that resulted in the deaths of five of his fellow officers in a July sniper attack.
Sgt. Demetrick Pennie filed his amended complaint and proposed class action in federal court on Friday, accusing Black Lives Matters and seven of its leaders of civil rights violations, conspiracy, assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
He also sued President Barack Obama, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakahn, Rev. Al Sharpton, National Action Network, the New Black Panthers Party and billionaire financier George Soros.
Pennie is a 17-year veteran of the force and currently the president of the Dallas Fallen Officer Foundation.
He says the defendants “repeatedly incited their supporters and others to engage in threats of and attacks to cause serious bodily injury or death” towards police officers of all races and ethnicities, including Jews, Christians and whites.
“Thus, defendants, each and every one of them, jointly and severally, conspiring and/or acting in concert either expressly or otherwise, are inciting and causing serious bodily injury or death to police officers and other law enforcement persons of all races and ethnicities, Jews, and Caucasian,” the 66-page complaint states.
Pennie says Obama stated “anti-police rhetoric” after the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, that he allegedly “saw this as another opportunity to stir up major racial tensions and hatred for police officers.”
Pennie accused Soros of giving “$650,000 directly in furtherance of the Black Lives Matter movement’s calls to violence and death.”
“Defendant Soros has given at least $33 million in one year to support various groups, such as Black Lives Matters, who are serving to further the on-going racial war by inciting racial violence against police officers and other law enforcement persons of all races and ethnicities including but not limited to Jews, Christians and Caucasians,” the complaint states.
“Defendants Soros has gone so far as to pay over 80 individuals and organizations to “protest” during the civil unrest that occurred in Ferguson, Missouri, in furtherance of the violent and hateful incitements to violence perpetrated by his co-defendants.”
Pennie accused Farrakahn of asking black members of the military last year “to desert and engage in mutiny and violent insurrection” against their country.
“During the speech, Farrakhan held up the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner as evidence that there is inequality in the treatment of black citizens, who must therefore wage war against and severely harm and kill police officers and other law enforcement,” the complaint states. “Then Farrakhan reinforced this call for violence by sharing a link to the video of his speech, which he had posted on Facebook, through his official Twitter account, with the explanation, ‘Why I’m calling on all black soldiers in the U.S. Armed Forces to come home, unite & fight for our own lives.'”
Pennie accused Sharpton of calling for the outlawing of local police departments last year through civil rights laws and creating a nationalized police force.
“Defendant Sharpton lead incendiary and inflammatory rallies in Ferguson, Missouri, early on in the developing violence and incited the looting, arson, destruction of property, assaults on police, threatening mobs, and violence,” the complaint states. “In one of Defendant Sharpton’s rallies that occurred on December 15, 2014 in New York City, marchers were chanting death threats to the police: ‘What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it! Now!’ The protesters event assaulted two NYPD officers and blocked traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge.”
Pennie is seeking compensatory, actual and punitive damages in excess of $500 million.
He is represented by Larry Klayman with the FreedomWatch lobbying group in Washington, D.C.
“Sergeant Pennie and I feel duty-bound to put ourselves forward to seek an end to the incitement of violence against law enforcement which has already resulted in the deathof five police officers in Dallas and the wounding of seven more, just in Texas alone,” Klayman told Breitbart.

From Courthouse News.

Dallas PD Wants Robot Details Kept Secret

August 18, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) — Dallas Police Department officials want to block the release of “highly intimate or embarrassing” information regarding the use of a bomb disposal robot to kill a sniper who murdered five officers last month, saying it is of no legitimate concern to the public.
City officials asked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for an advisory opinion on July 19, in response to at least 17 public information requests by journalists. The requests want access to robot and body camera footage, among other things.
Armed with a brick of C-4 explosive, the robot detonated and killed Micah Xavier Johnson, 25, of Mesquite, in the early hours of July 8 on the campus of El Centro College in downtown Dallas.
Dallas Police Chief David Brown told reporters at the time that hours-long negotiations with Johnson had failed.
“Our bomb robot detonated a bomb where the suspect was,” Brown said. “Other options would have subjected officers to great danger.”
Brown said Johnson was upset about recent police shooting of black men in Baton Rouge and the suburbs of Minneapolis.
“He said he was upset at white people,” Brown said. “He said he wanted to kill white people, especially white police officers. He stated he was not affiliated with any groups, and he stated he did this alone.”
The detonation was the first known use of a bomb disposal robot to kill a suspect by a U.S. police department.
Authored by Assistant City Attorney P. Armstrong, the letter to Paxton argues that some of the requested information “is protected by common-law privacy,” which protects information that is “highly intimate or embarrassing, such that its release would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person, and it is of not legitimate concern to the public.”
The letter states that some of the requested information is considered confidential under the law. It also invokes “special circumstances,” and the release of the information would endanger officers working undercover, Armstrong writes.
“The disclosure of the requested information that includes such information could jeopardize the safety and well-being of these officers and the confidential informants used by DPD,” the letter states. “As well, it may subject them to retaliation for offenses attained from the location if this information is disclosed.”
The letter says some of the requested information is protected by the Texas Homeland Security Act, since it involves operating procedures of the department’s Homeland Security and Special Operations Division.
“This information is vital in coordinating and dispatching police and fire personnel to emergencies,” the letter states. “As such, it is critical that DPD be able to protect information directly related to the operating procedures of this division.”

From Courthouse News.

Dallas Shootings Inspire ‘Back the Blue Act’

July 13, 2016
By David Lee
WASHINGTON (CN) – U.S. Sen. John Cornyn introduced a bill Wednesday that would make the targeting and killing of police a federal crime, nearly a week after a lone sniper ambushed and killed five Dallas cops.
Cornyn, R-Texas, and cosponsors Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., introduced the Back the Blue Act of 2016. The bill would make it a federal crime to deliberately target and kill law enforcement officers, public safety officers and federal judges.
Defendants would face a minimum of 30 years in federal prison, up to the death penalty. They would face a minimum sentence of 10 years for attempted murder.
The bill would also expand police officers’ self-defense rights and provide federal grant money for police departments to spend on community policing initiatives.
“The one thing we need to do, absolutely, is to come together to show our support for those who get up every morning, put on the badge, and walk out the door, not knowing if they’ll come home at the end of the day,” Cornyn said on the Senate floor Wednesday morning. “And we can do that by sending a clear message that America will not tolerate those who seek to kill those who are duty-bound to defend us.”
The bill would expedite court proceedings for cases involving the killing of a public safety officer, Cornyn said.
The bill also “creates a new federal crime for interstate flight to avoid prosecution for killing, attempting to kill, or conspiring to kill a federal judge, federal law enforcement officer, or federally-funded public safety officer,” Cornyn said in a written statement. “The offender would be subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years.”
Cornyn attended an interfaith memorial service Tuesday in downtown Dallas in memory of the killed officers – Dallas Police Department Sgt. Michael Smith, 55; Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, 48; Officer Michael Krol, 40; Officer Patrick Zamarripa, 32; and Dallas Area Rapid Transit Officer Brent Thompson, 43.
“Yesterday, President Obama stressed the need to translate our words and prayers into action,” Cornyn said. “This legislation is responsive to what the president said.”
The shooter, Micah Xavier Johnson, 25, of Mesquite, was killed last Thursday night on the second floor of El Centro College via detonation of C-4 explosive carried by a bomb-disposal robot. Police say he began shooting at officers from an elevated position around 9 p.m. after a protest march through downtown concluded.
Dallas Police Chief David Brown said Johnson told police negotiators that he was upset “with Black Lives Matter” and about the shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in suburban Minneapolis.
“He said he was upset at white people,” Brown said Friday. “He said he wanted to kill white people, especially white police officers. He stated he was not affiliated with any groups, and he stated he did this alone.”

From Courthouse News.

Obama Calls for Unity at Dallas Memorial Service

July 12, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – At a Tuesday interfaith memorial service honoring five murdered Dallas police officers, President Barack Obama lamented at how the public “ask police to do too much” in solving societal problems while “we ask too little” of ourselves.
“We flood our communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to get his hands on a Glock than on a computer or a book,” Obama told a crowd of 2,000 police officers and dignitaries at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in downtown Dallas. “Then we tell the police to take care of it, to keep the neighborhoods in check at all costs and without any mistakes. We then feign surprise when things boil over.”
Five flag-draped seats near the stage were left empty in memory of the five slain officers – Dallas Police Department Sgt. Michael Smith, 55; Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, 48; Officer Michael Krol, 40; Officer Patrick Zamarripa, 32; and Dallas Area Rapid Transit Officer Brent Thompson, 43.
Obama spoke in detail about each officer during his 45-minute speech. He thanked black Dallas Police Chief David Brown and white Mayor Mike Rawlings for their leadership during the crisis.
“The murder rate in Dallas has fallen, complaints of excessive force have fallen 64 percent,” Obama said as the crowd gave the men a standing ovation. “The Dallas Police Department is doing it the right way. Thank you for your steady leadership and powerful example, we could not be prouder of you.”
Obama was saddened at how he has spoken at “too many memorials” comforting families of victims of senseless violence.
“I have seen how a spirit of unity, born of tragedy, can gradually dissipate and be overtaken by a return to business as usual, by inertia, old habits and expediency,” he said.
Obama walked a fine line of comforting both critics of police brutality and police supporters, saying the “overwhelming majority” of cops do their job fairly and with professionalism.
“They are deserving of our respect and not our scorn. When anyone, no matter how good their intentions may be, paints all police as biased or bigoted, we undermine those officers we depend on for our safety,” he said.
Obama urged citizens to not insult protesters against police brutality by dismissing them as “troublemakers,” saying that racial bias did not end with the passage of the Civil Rights Act or a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The president was introduced by Brown, who lightened the somber mood by sharing a personal story about reciting Teddy Pendergrass, Al Green and Stevie Wonder song lyrics to girls as a teenager.
He read lyrics to the Stevie Wonder hit “As” in expressing his love for the victims’ families seated in the front row.
“You’re not helping to make this earth a place sometimes called hell, change your words into truths and then change that truth into love, and maybe our children’s grandchildren, and their great-great grandchildren will tell,” Brown said. “I’ll be loving you, until the rainbow burns the stars out in the sky, until the ocean covers every mountain high, until the dolphin flies and parrots live at sea, until we dream of life and life becomes a dream.”
Former President George W. Bush told the crowd that while the nation mourns, Dallasites “have had five deaths in the family.” He criticized how it seems the “forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces pulling us together.”
“Arguments turn too easily into animosity,” Bush said to applause.
“Disagreements escalate too quickly into dehumanization, often we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions.”
Bush said that what makes Americans unique is our values, that we have never been bound by blood.
“We are bound by things of the spirit, by shared commitments to common ideals,” he said. “We do not want the unity of grief, nor do we want the unity of fear. We want the unity of hope, affection and high purpose.”
The former president told the victims’ families that their loss is “unfair” and “we cannot explain” their loss.
“We can stand beside you and share your grief,” he said. “We can pray that God will comfort you with a hope deeper than sorrow and stronger than death.”
Mayor Rawlings said the “soul of our city was pierced” on Thursday, and that he has asked himself what mistakes officials have made leading up to it.
“In my moments of self-doubt, I discovered the truth – that we did nothing wrong,” he said. “In fact, Dallas is very, very good.”
Rawlings said that in spite of that, “there is a reason this happened” in Dallas.
“This is our chance to lead and build a new model for a community, for our city and for our country,” he said. “To do that, there will be tough times ahead. We will mourn together, and together is the key word here.”
In thanking Obama and dignitaries from neighboring cities and states, Rawlings said they are here “because they know we have a common disease, this absurd violence on our streets.”
En route to Dallas on Air Force One, Obama made phone calls to the families of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in suburban Minneapolis to extend his condolences. Both black men died last week at the hands of police, and the viral videos of their deaths sparked outrage that resulted in the peaceful march in downtown Dallas before the shooting Thursday night.
Obama was accompanied on the flight by First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, and Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Dallas.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters the president views the attack as a hate crime that “targeted” white police officers.
“His actions were motivated by racial hatred,” Earnest said. “The hate crime laws that we have on the books don’t exist just to protect black people or minorities. They’re there to protect all Americans.”
Several blocks of downtown remain closed Tuesday near the El Centro College campus where the shootings took place. Jury selection was cancelled for the day at the nearby George L. Allen Sr. Courts Building.
The lone shooter, Micah Xavier Johnson, 25, of Mesquite, was killed Thursday night on the second floor of the community college via detonation of C-4 carried by a bomb-disposal robot.
A law enforcement official told The Wall Street Journal on Monday that Johnson used a Izhmash-Saiga 5.45mm high-powered rifle in the attack, and was also carrying a Glock 9mm semiautomatic pistol and a .25-caliber semiautomatic pistol. The rifle is a variant of AK-style military rifles. It is unknown if Johnson fired either pistol in the attack.
Law enforcement officials told ABC-affiliate WFAA-TV that Johnson changed his plans for an attack to coincide with Thursday night’s protest and march.
Police found one pound of Tannerite – a powder used to make targets explode during shooting practice – at the home Johnson shared with his mother, the Journal reported. Acetone was also found in the home, which can be combined with other materials to make explosives. Dallas police said they found bulletproof vests, rifles, ammunition and a “rambling” dairy detailing “shoot and move” combat tactics.
Brown said Johnson told police negotiators that he was upset “with Black Lives Matter” and about the shootings of Sterling and Castile.
“He said he was upset at white people,” Brown said Friday. “He said he wanted to kill white people, especially white police officers. He stated he was not affiliated with any groups, and he stated he did this alone.”
Brown said Johnson made several threats of explosives being planted throughout downtown, but no explosives were found.
Brown made headlines Tuesday when he challenged protesters to join the police force to make a difference, saying he would have “done something” rather than protest if he were in their position.
“We are hiring,” Brown said at a press conference. “Get off that protest line and put an application in. We will put you in your neighborhood and we will help you resolve some of the problems you are protesting about.”
Funerals for the killed officers will begin Wednesday. A private funeral mass will be held in the morning for Sgt. Smith at Mary Immaculate Catholic Church in Farmers Branch.

From Courthouse News.

Texas Republicans Blame Black Lives Matter for Police Murders

July 8, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – Several Texas Republicans were quick to blame Thursday night’s murder of five Dallas police officers on Black Lives Matter protests and rhetoric, ignoring calls by Mayor Mike Rawlings and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for unity.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick angrily called protesters “hypocrites” for running away from a sniper’s bullets while expecting protection from police “that they were protesting” against.
“All these protesters last night, they turned around and ran the other way expecting the men and women in blue to protect them,” he said during an appearance on Fox News on Friday. “What hypocrites.”
The protest in Dallas was one of many throughout the nation in the wake of two high-profile killings of black men by police in recent days. A video of an unarmed Alton Sterling being shot to death by Baton Rouge police went viral on Tuesday.
One day later, a video of Philando Castile after being shot and killed by police during a traffic stop in suburban Minneapolis also went viral.
Police say Micah Xavier Johnson, 25, of Mesquite, began firing at officers with a long-rifle at the end of an otherwise peaceful protest and march against police brutality.
Johnson killed five Dallas police officers, wounded seven more and wounded two civilians before being cornered at a parking garage near El Centro College downtown. Johnson was ultimately killed by a police robot that detonated an explosive after he told police negotiators that he wanted to kill white people and white police officers, in particular.
Patrick said the officers who engaged Johnson “never had a chance” because they were shot in the back.
“I do blame people on social media with their hatred towards police,” he said. “I saw Rev. Jesse Jackson calling police racists without any facts. I do blame former Black Lives Matter protests — last night was peaceful … this has to stop.”
Patrick became visibly emotional when he described seeing the bodies of four dead officers wheeled by him on gurneys at a hospital.
“Too many people in the public who aren’t criminals but who have a big mouth are creating situations [like] we saw last night,” he said.
State Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, also blamed Black Lives Matter protesters on Friday.
“Clearly the rhetoric of Black Lives Matters encouraged the sniper that shot Dallas police officers,” he tweeted. “The media needs to dispel the lies of Ferguson – ‘hands up – don’t shoot’ is a lie that continued in many of the protests.”
U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, joined in, telling Fox Business that President Barack Obama has been “divisive” in handling rising tensions between police and blacks.
“He always comes out against the cops but then he would usually be wrong,” he said. “This administration has supported Black Lives Matter – even its leaders have called out for killing cops.”
Black Lives Matter activists swiftly condemned the attack. No Dallas chapter of the group exists – the protest and march were coordinated by the Next Generation Action Network activist group.
“Yesterday’s attack was the result of the actions of a lone gunman,” Black Lives Matter said in a statement Friday. “To assign the actions of one person to an entire movement is dangerous and irresponsible.”

From Courthouse News.