Federal judge rules KCK officer was justified in fatal shooting — (Kansas City Star)

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Kansas City Star

Posted on Wed, Jul. 13, 2005

By ROBERT A. CRONKLETON, The Kansas City Star

Mentally ill man died after lunging at police with knife

A federal judge has ruled that a Kansas City, Kan., police officer was justified when he fatally shot a man with mental disabilities more than three years ago.

In a ruling released Thursday, U.S. District Judge John W. Lungstrum dismissed a lawsuit brought by the man’s mother, Katica Sudac, and sister, Marina Sudac.

The two claimed the officer used excessive force when he shot to death 18-year-old Tomislav Pevac on Sept. 20, 2001.

The lawsuit was filed against Trung Hoang, the police officer who shot Pevac; Police Chief Ron Miller; and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan.

“Obviously we are very disappointed,” said Bill Dunn, a Bonner Springs attorney representing the Sudacs. He said they are still considering their options.

“We are disappointed a jury will not decide this case,” he said.

Police officials declined to comment about the ruling.

Pevac suffered from severe depression and experienced violent outbursts and strong suicidal tendencies, according to court documents. He was taking two medicines, including Prozac, and his mother testified that he was “OK” when he was taking his medication.

On the night of the shooting, Pevac was at the home he shared with his mother and sister in the 500 block of Sandusky Avenue. He became upset and started hitting a wall, according to the ruling.

At one point he grabbed a knife. Fearing that her son might kill them, his mother grabbed his sister and fled to a neighbor’s house. The neighbor called police shortly before 9 p.m.

Hoang and another officer, who arrived at separate times, found Pevac in the street holding a knife. Pevac ran and the officers chased him to a nearby alley. Pevac ignored the officers’ commands to drop the knife and he lunged at them several times, police said.

The officers tried to use pepper spray to control Pevac, but to no effect. Pevac then walked onto Tauromee Avenue and toward a car with two people. Fearing for the lives of the people in the car, the officers moved closer to Pevac.

Pevac lunged toward Hoang, who shot him three times.

A witness, however, said Pevac never raised his arms above his waist, nor did he lunge or run at the officers.

Former District Attorney Nick Tomasic ruled the shooting justifiable homicide.

The Sudacs sued, contending in part that Hoang violated Pevac’s federal constitutional rights that protected him from unreasonable seizure; from use of excessive, unreasonable and unjustified force; and from discrimination on account of his mental disability.

According to the ruling, police did not know that Pevac had a mental disability.

Lungstrum found that the officers did not discriminate against Pevac because the incident occurred as a result of Pevac’s threatening behavior, not the officers’ action.

Lungstrum also found that Hoang did not use excessive force.

“From a reasonable officer’s perspective, Tomislav’s conduct in stopping and elevating the knife at a close range was an aggressive move, especially in light of his actions in the alley,” which provided probable cause to believe that Tomislav posed the threat of serious physical harm, Lungstrum wrote.

As to the testimony of the witness, Lungstrum ruled that the man had viewed the events from more than a house away at night, and did not have the same perspective as the officers who were standing six to 10 feet away.

To reach Robert A. Cronkleton, call (816) 234-5994 or send e-mail to bcronkleton@kcstar.com.