Cops shot me by mistake as I walked near their car, N.J. man says in suit (VIDEO)

Posted Jun 13, 2020

An Essex County man who was shot by undercover police officers nearly two years ago has sued the East Orange Police Department, claiming police mistakenly shot him and later arrested him at a hospital.

Bryan Witherspoon, 36, of East Orange, claims in court papers he was shot several times on Nov. 13, 2018 by two officers responding to shots fired at the same moment as Witherspoon happened to be walking near their car.

The officers mistakenly thought Witherspoon was the shooter, according to a lawsuit filed this week in Superior Court of Essex County.

Officers “engaged (Witherspoon) and subsequently discharged their weapons, shooting (him) multiple times,” claims the suit.

Witherspoon was taken by ambulance to University Hospital in Newark, where two detectives charged him with weapons offenses and drug possession charges, according to the suit.

Attorney Jeffrey Patti of Sussex County said Saturday that while his client had a gun concealed in his waistband, a surveillance video from a nearby home shows he never took it out.

Video from the scene shows Witherspoon walking in front of the officers’ car and then falling to the ground. Seconds later the officers who shot him rush to his side.

“From the video, there’s no evidence he had any time to pull a gun on these cops,” Patti said. “The man was not threatening them at all. He was walking past their car.”

The lawsuit states Witherspoon, who had been walking from his girlfriend’s home, was the victim of an unjustified shooting, false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution.

Patti said Witherspoon suffered six gunshot wounds and had a portion of his intestine surgically removed. He spent weeks recovering in a hospital, his lawyer said.

“This was a violation if civil rights with the excessive use of deadly force,” Patti said.

The officers would later claim Witherspoon pointed a weapon at them, but there is no evidence of that type of threatening interaction on the video.

Witherspoon was deprived of his civil rights by police officers who were inadequately trained and incompetent, the suit states.

The shooting was “the result of a policy or practice of the City of East Orange Police Department, specifically the department’s failure to adequately train, supervise and monitor its officers in the use of force,” the suit states.

The lawsuit, which was filed against the department and the officers in their official and individual capacities, seeks a jury trial and unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Patti said his client, who has a criminal history, pleaded guilty to the weapons charge stemming from this incident and is serving a prison sentence.

According to the New Jersey Department of Corrections, Witherspoon is serving 3 and 1/2 to 5 years at Bayside State Prison in Cumberland County and is eligible for parole on May 14, 2022.

“But for this video, Witherspoon would have gone down for aggravated assault and spent (most of) the rest of his life in jail,” Patti said.

East Orange officials did not immediately respond Saturday to requests for comment on the lawsuit or whether an investigation was ongoing.

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