DETROIT: Judge tosses out case against three Lincoln Park officers — (The News-Herald)

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The News-Herald

Wednesday, November 26, 2008 1:06 AM EST

By Jason Alley

DETROIT ­ A federal lawsuit filed against three Lincoln Park police officers by the family of a man who was shot to death in 2002 has been dismissed.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Murphy III threw out the case Nov. 18 after determining that the officers were justified in using deadly force against Michael Estrada, 27, of Lincoln Park.

In his ruling, Murphy wrote that Estrada’s death “was a tragic and heartbreaking event,” but was not caused by officers doing anything wrong.

“The court finds that the police did not act unreasonable by firing their guns at Michael,” the 11-page opinion said. “There is no factual dispute that Michael was extremely unstable, was enraged, was brandishing two large knives, was threatening homicide and was capable of killing someone. …

“A reasonable officer on the scene could conclude that Michael posed an imminent threat of serious physical harm, if not death, to the police and to the other citizens of the neighborhood and that deadly force was therefore necessary to restrain Michael. Under these circumstances, the officers were justified in using deadly force to subdue Michael.”

Police were dispatched to Estrada’s home in the 1900 block of Montie on a 911 family dispute call after Estrada was seen on the front lawn holding a knife.

He was waving the knife and yelling that someone was going to be stabbed, police said.

Officers also said he told them “that they better get their guns out because someone is going to have to shoot me.”

Having been drinking, Estrada was described in court documents as being visibly disturbed, intoxicated and irrational. He also suffered from an undisclosed mental illness and was taking Prozac.

After officers asked him several times to drop the knife, police said, Estrada went into the house.

Outside of the house, police spoke with his parents, who said their son was angry because he hadn’t been invited to a family birthday party.

Estrada’s father said his son went into the kitchen, grabbed a large knife and returned to the living room, saying he was going to cut his father’s throat, police said.

His father armed himself with a baseball bat and left the home, police said.

Because no one else was in the house with Estrada when he went back in, police said, he wasn’t considered a threat. Officers left the scene and set up surveillance nearby to monitor the situation.

Less than 10 minutes later, Estrada left his house holding two large knives, climbed his backyard fence and went into the back yard of a neighbor’s house in the 1900 block of Reo.

With their weapons drawn, Cpls. James Howell and John Martin approached Estrada and tried to get him to drop the knives, but he refused, police said.

Estrada kept yelling at the officers and walking toward them as they backed away, police said.

Officers backed onto the street. As Estrada got to the curb area, police said, he lunged at officers, at which time Martin shot him in the knee and Howell shot him twice in the back.

He was rushed to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and was pronounced dead on arrival.

Estrada’s family disputes the fact that he lunged at officers, but bystanders confirmed that he either lunged or stumbled toward police.

Besides Howell and Martin, the lawsuit also named retired police Sgt. Robert Steele, who was the supervising officer on that shift.

Howell is now a detective sergeant and Martin is the lieutenant in charge of the detective bureau.

Attorney Joseph Ceglarek II, who filed the suit on behalf of Estrada’s family, declined to comment on the outcome other than to say that he plans to appeal the ruling to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

Lincoln Park’s city attorney, Edward Zelenak, said he believes the city will be successful on appeal, as well.

“The judge found that officers were entitled to qualified governmental immunity and acted properly under the circumstances,” he said.

“It’s good to win, and we’ll just wait to see what they raise on appeal. … I would think on the basis of precedent, the city stands on good shoes going up on appeal.”

Contact Staff Writer Jason Alley at jalley@heritage.com or at 1-734-246-0867.