A Wichita attorney representing the family of Scott Souders, who was shot and killed by a Chetopa police officer serving a search warrant in August, has filed a notice of a $3 million claim against Labette County and other agencies involved in the case.
Labette County commissioners received the claim on Friday.
The notice is required under the Kansas Tort Claims Act, which spells out how claims must be filed against municipalities. A municipality has a certain number of days to consider the claim and approve or deny it before the party can file a lawsuit.
Kurt Kerns mailed the claim to Labette County for the Scott Souders estate, Patricia Souders, Scott’s mother, and Brittany Barnett, Scott’s fiancee.
Chetopa police served a search warrant at Scott Souders’ house, 1110 Cherry, in Chetopa at 12:12 a.m. Aug. 12. The three Chetopa police officers knocked loudly for 90 seconds before breaking into the home. Dalton Russell, the lead officer, walked into the front room followed by two other officers. As Russell got to the hallway, Souders yelled, “Freeze, (expletive),” according to a review of the investigative files and reports by Labette County Attorney Stephen Jones. Russell saw Souders with a rifle and yelled again “police,” “search warrant.” Russell fired three shots, two of which struck Souders. One of them caused a fatal wound. The sheriff’s department responded after the shooting. The KBI investigated the incident.
Jones’ investigation led to no charges being filed against Russell. Russell was taken off administrative leave in Chetopa this month and then offered his resignation.
In the claim, Kerns names the county, the sheriff’s department, the city of Chetopa and the city attorney of Chetopa.
He’s seeking $1 million each for Barnett, Patricia Souders and the Scott Souders estate, which is now in probate court.
The claim alleges that Scott Souders clearly was unaware the intruders were police. The officers left without providing medical care to Souders, the claim says. The claim also says the officers didn’t seize the marijuana “sitting in plain view in the living room” after the shooting.
Barnett was terrified by the incident and witnessed “the shooting and the suffering of Scott Souders,” according to the claim. She suffered psychological injuries as a result.
The claim alleges negligence on the Chetopa Police Department for the “excessive” force used against Souders, failure to train and supervise officers on the timing and execution of “marijuana warrants” and for “vicarious liability” for acts and omissions of its employees during their duties.
The sheriff’s department was negligent, according to the claim, for failing to train deputies in search warrant assistance and in failing to render aid to Scott Souders.
The claim also questions the reasonableness of the search because of the time it was served.
County Counselor Brian Johnson said he will forward the claim to the county’s insurance carrier. He said either he or the carrier may provide an answer to the claim.