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Man shot by Wilmington police in 2020 files federal lawsuit

Delaware Public Media
A Wilmington police cruiser.

A man shot by Wilmington police officers in 2020 filed a federal lawsuit against the officers, the city of Wilmington and its police department on April 12.

Attorneys representing Jabri Hunter say the Wilmington police department has failed to train officers not to use force against unarmed civilians and hold officers accountable for using excessive force.

Officer Luis Vasquez shot Hunter in April 2020 after officers found the 23-year-old asleep in his car at an intersection near downtown Wilmington. Police said Hunter was carrying a gun at the time, but he did not draw it on the officers. The Delaware Department of Justice later ruled Vasquez was justified in shooting Hunter, claiming he confused the sound of his colleague banging on the passenger window with gunshots.

Emeka Ingwe, who manages the firm representing Hunter, argues the officers involved in the shooting weren’t adequately trained to treat deadly force as a last resort. He hopes the lawsuit sets the stage for the US Department of Justice to look into a broader pattern of excessive force and accountability issues within the Wilmington Police Department.

“We think there are enough examples of questionable shootings and uses of excessive force by Wilmington police to justify an investigation of their use-of-force practices," he said.

Hunter’s attorney Renee Leverette says she hopes the lawsuit forces the Wilmington police department to be more transparent about how it trains officers, investigates misconduct and holds officers accountable.

“We want to see what their policies and procedures are, " she said. "We want to see what the training is, we want to see if it’s being followed, and we want to see improved processes for when things like this occur.”

Depositions could begin in the case as early as this year, but because of the federal court’s backlog, a trial might not take place until 2023. Hunter, who survived the shooting, is still recovering from his injuries while incarcerated.

Earlier this year, a New Castle County grand jury indicted another former Wilmington police officer, Samuel Waters, for assaulting two men in separate incidents last fall. If convicted, Waters could face a 13-year prison sentence.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.