A federal lawsuit claims that police in Dothan, Alabama, needlessly killed a man who had gone to an animal shelter to drop off a stray dog.
Dothan police were called to the shelter when Robert Earl Lawrence refused to show his driver license to the shelter’s staff on Dec. 30, 2014, according to the lawsuit, filed by the dead man’s estate. Police have said Lawrence considered himself “a sovereign citizen.”
Dothan police Officer Chris Summerlin was the first to arrive, and “took Lawrence to the ground,” the lawsuit states. Summerlin then let him up without cuffing him, and Lawrence continued to refuse to provide his ID “based on his personal convictions and beliefs,” the lawsuit said.
“Lawrence put his hands up and backed away from Summerlin in order to avoid being arrested,” the lawsuit states.
Summerlin then deployed his stun gun on Lawrence. Officer Adrian Woodruff arrived to help, drew her weapon and shot Lawrence in the abdomen, according to the suit. Lawrence later died of the gunshot wound.
Dothan’s city attorney declined to comment Tuesday, and lawyers who filed the lawsuit didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Police have said that Lawrence, 30, became disorderly after being told he couldn’t leave the dog at the shelter without showing identification.
The so-called sovereign citizen movement includes many who believe they’re immune to most state and federal laws, including paying taxes and getting driver’s licenses.
In a news release shortly after the shooting, Dothan police said Lawrence was repeatedly told to calm down, and was then told he was being placed under arrest. A physical altercation then took place, and he was shot, police said at the time.
Lawrence had committed no crimes, and wasn’t under any obligation to show his license, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit acknowledges that Lawrence “resisted the arrest,” but states that he didn’t assault or try to assault the police officers. Lawrence “openly carries a handgun,” but had removed his gun and put it in the glovebox of his vehicle when the first officer arrived, the lawsuit states.
“There was no basis for Woodruff to even draw her gun, let alone shoot Lawrence,” it states.
In July, prosecutors said that a grand jury declined to indict the officer and that no charges would be filed.
Evidence in the case includes video “clearly showing that Lawrence’s rights were violated,” the lawsuit states. That video has never been made public.
Unlike many high-profile police shootings across the country in recent years, the lawsuit makes no allegations involving the race of anyone involved. Lawrence was white, according to court records. Police haven’t specified the races of the officers.