On behalf of his three young children, the grieving girlfriend of a schizophrenic Loxahatchee man is suing the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office and one of its deputies for his shooting death at the hands of that PBSO deputy on New Year's Eve.
According to the wrongful death lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday, Dayna Clawson claims Deputy Justin Rigney had no reason to fatally shoot Ricky Whidden.
Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia two years earlier, Whidden, 46, told his parents to call 911 that night. Whidden's mom said she told the 911 dispatcher her son had a mental illness, and a knife in his hand, but was not threatening them.
PBSO says their deputies were dispatched to the 13000 block of Compton Rd. in Loxahatchee on New Year's Eve after a report of a man armed with a knife threatening himself and his family members.
But Stuart Kaplan, an attorney for Clawson and Whidden's parents, Dianne and Owen Whidden, says Deputy Rigney deprived Whidden of his civil rights, by shooting and using deadly, excessive and unreasonable force during the encounter.
In the lawsuit he claims, "This case involves another in a long line of unjustified police shootings by officers of PBSO, in which Justin Rigney acted consistently with PBSO practices, policies, procedures of customs of condoning aggressive police tactics, failing to identify, train, discipline, or otherwise properly supervise officers who have engaged in excessive and unjustified use of force on persons who suffer from mental illness, and ratifying the conduct of those officers with little or no investigation."
The lawsuit claims the 911 call with Whidden's mother lasted 40 minutes, during which time Whidden's mother remained on the phone with PBSO, but "Defendant Rigney and other deputies of PBSO responded to the scene, immediately escalated to the situation, and shot Whidden in the back multiple times as he was running away from the deputies."
Kaplan also claims that when Whidden lay bleeding on the ground, Rigney then turned his police dog loose on him.
The sheriff's office said Whidden refused to comply with deputies' commands and PBSO shot him twice with non-lethal bullets, knocking him down. When deputies approached Whidden in an attempt to take him into custody, PBSO says he jumped up and lunged at the deputies.
Deputy Justin Rigney then discharged his firearm, according to a PBSO spokesperson.
"PBSO failed to properly train sheriff's deputies in the appropriate methods, proper procedures and protocols with respect to how to interact and subdue a mentally ill individual and how to utilize appropriate levels of force during encounters," the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount in damages for the couple's children and Whidden's parents.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement recently completed an investigation into the shooting and sent it to the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office has not yet commented on the lawsuit.
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