The family of a 20-year-old Crofton man who was fatally shot by an Anne Arundel Police officer in January has hired a Chicago civil rights attorney, and plans to sue the department in federal court next week.
Mikel Quarles, the mother of Dyonta “DJ” Quarles Jr. confirmed Friday that the family has retained Gregory Kulis, a Chicago-based attorney who focuses on police misconduct cases, to represent the family in a federal civil rights lawsuit against the police department. In a statement, Kulis’ office said they would be filing the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Maryland on Monday.
Police spokesperson Jacklyn Davis declined to comment on the matter, citing that the investigation is still ongoing and that the department does not comment on pending civil litigation.
The Maryland Attorney General’s office is continuing to probe the Jan. 30 incident at a Danville Court home in which Dyonta Quarles, who was unarmed, was shot dead while biting an officer after charging at police. The office released body-worn camera footage of the shooting in March, but has not yet forwarded its investigation to the Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney’s Office for a final determination on criminal charges.
The office, which took control of investigating deadly police interactions last year, said Anne Arundel officers responded to the Crofton home when Mikel Quarles “called 911 to report that she was having a dispute with her adult son, and he would not let her leave the bedroom.” When officers arrived on scene, the 911 caller stated that she could not get to the front door. Footage of the encounter shows police breaking down the door to the residence and finding the mother and son together in a room before he charges at the officers, striking an officer, identified as J. Ricci, several times.
Kulis said Friday that Mikel Quarles had called 911 to request an ambulance, and was not seeking a police response. The police response only had escalated the situation, he said.
“She called for help, and her son ended up being killed,” Kulis said. “Everything, rather than being de-escalated, was escalated by police officers with guns.”
The video shows police using a stun gun on Quarles before taking the 20-year-old down. While they attempted to place him in handcuffs, Ricci shouts that he is being bitten and tells his colleagues to shoot Quarles before drawing a gun and firing three rounds into his torso. Quarles was later declared dead at the scene. Ricci was taken to a trauma center, and suffered a traumatic brain injury as well as injuries to his face and finger, according to investigators.
The shooting raised alarm for the county’s Caucus of African American Leaders’ Public Safety Committee, which said in a March statement that watching the body-worn camera footage was “heartbreaking.”
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“After reviewing the video several times and discussing this incident with the entire Public Safety Committee, we are all left questioning the actions of the Anne Arundel County Police,” the committee’s chair, Joshua Hatch, said in a statement.
The committee, which consists of current and former law enforcement officers as well as civil rights activists, lawyers and other citizens, questioned if the responding officers had diverted from departmental policy related to hostage situations, which normally require the presence of a supervisor. They also questioned why the department’s Special Operations Division wasn’t involved in the response that night, and said the three shots was excessive force for the circumstances.
“The fact that this officer was obviously attacked by Mr. Quarles in no way legitimizes the officer shooting him three times,” the statement says.
County police declined to comment on the committee’s findings, citing the ongoing investigation.
Kulis and Quarles’ family will be filing the seven-count lawsuit in U.S. District Court following a news conference on Monday.
“After several months of waiting for answers from state and local agencies, DJ’s family is now seeking answers and justice for themselves,” according to news release from Kulis’ office, adding that the lawsuit is being filed against the police department “for violating DJ’s federally protected constitutional rights and for his untimely, wrongful death.”
Kulis has been involved in a number of police misconduct cases, especially in Illinois. He also represented brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo in a defamation suit against lawyers for Jussie Smollett, an actor who the brothers said hired them to stage a hate crime against in 2019.