Relatives of a man fatally shot by police officers in Bowleys Quarters three years ago are suing the Baltimore County Police Department, alleging that officers violated his civil rights by firing on him unnecessarily.
An attorney for the family of Jeffrey Gene Evans, 52, says he was shot six times by three county police officers at his home on the morning of Dec. 14, 2015.
Evans’ girlfriend had called police and reported that he had taken a large number of pills. A police officer and medics went inside and tried to talk Evans into going to the hospital, but he refused, according to the lawsuit. At one point, he sat on the couch and later went into the kitchen and drank a beer.
More officers were called to the home and they continued to talk with Evans, but he insisted he did not want to go to the hospital, according to the lawsuit. The girlfriend was taken outside of the home and as Evans continued to refuse medical treatment, the officers used a Taser on him, the lawsuit alleges.
Evans then reached into a drawer and pulled out kitchen knives and “advanced on officers with those knives,” forcing officers to again use the Taser, and then shoot him, police said at the time.
Kenneth Ravenell, an attorney for Evans’ relatives, claims that footage from a camera on the Taser shows Evans didn’t make any threatening moves toward the officers.
“This man just wanted to be left alone and it was his absolute right to refuse to go to the hospital,” Ravenell said. “If we’re there to try to save someone, we don’t kill them.”
Ravenell said he filed the lawsuit on the family’s behalf in Baltimore County Circuit Court on Friday. Ravenell represents Evans’ three sisters and the mother of his granddaughter.
A spokeswoman for Baltimore County government declined to comment Friday, citing the county’s policy against discussing pending litigation. County attorneys generally represent police officers when lawsuits are filed against officers.
The three officers who shot Evans — Officer 1st Class Michael Spahn, Officer Chad Canup and Officer Michael Pfadenhauer — were cleared of wrongdoing by the state’s attorney and were not criminally charged. The county still employs those officers, according to an employee database. The lawsuit also names two other police officers, Officer Michaela Moore and Officer 1st Class Adam Heavner, as defendants.
Ravenell said he believes the Taser camera video will be crucial evidence in the case.
A 36-second video, provided to The Sun by Ravenell’s office, shows a man the lawyers identify as Evans flailing about in a kitchen. Leads from the Taser electrodes are visible.
In the video, the man moves toward the counter, opens a drawer and pulls out knives. He waves his arms around and appears to be yelling, though what he says is not clear because there is no audio. The officer whose Taser camera recorded the incident is on the other side of an island from the man. The man drops to the ground.
The video does not appear to show the man being shot.
Ravenell said he obtained the video from police after filing a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
The lawsuit also cites inconsistent statements by the officers about how they claimed Evans advanced toward them before he was shot. Some said he moved to the left of the kitchen island, while others said he moved toward the right, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit claims that the officers “acted with deliberate indifference” to Evans’ constitutional rights. It alleges the officers used excessive force in violation of state and federal civil rights laws. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for Evans’ relatives.
Earlier this year, Ravenell was part of the legal team that secured a $38 million award for the family of Korryn Gaines, a woman who was fatally shot by a county police officer following a standoff at her Randallstown apartment in 2016.
A county jury found in that case that a county police officer violated the civil rights of Gaines and her then-5-year-old son, Kodi, when he fired at her. That officer also was not criminally charged.
The bulk of the award, more than $32 million, was assigned to Kodi, who was injured by a ricocheting bullet and suffered emotional trauma from watching his mother die, his lawyers said. The county has appealed the award.
Ravenell sees parallels between the two cases. In both instances, officers could have taken a more restrained approach with subjects who were in distress, he said. He believes a jury will see the officers’ actions differently than the police and prosecutors did.
“I think we’re headed for the same kind of result in this case,” Ravenell said.
Ravenell’s team in the Evans case also includes Baltimore attorneys Leslie D. Hershfield, who also was part of the Gaines case, and Tomeka G. Church.