Last August, a Greensboro, North Carolina, police officer shot and killed a 17-year-old boy during a traffic stop. The boy, Nasanto Antonio Crenshaw, was riding in a stolen vehicle and was apparently attempting to flee when he was killed. Yesterday, the boy’s mother filed a civil rights lawsuit against the police officer who shot her son, arguing that the officer’s use of force was so egregious that it violated her son’s Fourth Amendment rights.
“I hurt every day,” Wakita Doriety, Crenshaw’s mother, told WRAL, a local news station, last year. “I cry all day, every day…. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.”
According to the lawsuit, the incident occurred last August, when Crenshaw was pulled over by local police on suspicion that he was driving a vehicle that had recently been reported stolen. After being stopped, the defendant—a police officer identified only as “John Doe”—exited his patrol vehicle, and Crenshaw began driving away at a “speed of three to five miles per hour,” according to the lawsuit.
After fleeing, the lawsuit reports that Crenshaw pulled the vehicle into a parking lot, where the defendant followed him. The parking lot was a dead end, and the complaint states that Crenshaw had begun attempting a three-point turn, causing the “driver’s side of his vehicle to swipe the front end of Defendant Doe’s patrol vehicle.” At this point, Crenshaw’s vehicle came to a stop, and the defendant exited his patrol car, commanding Crenshaw to “get on the ground, get on the ground do it now.”
However, the complaint states that Crenshaw began turning the vehicle, facing away from the defendant and his patrol car. At this point, several passengers, also teenagers, jumped out of the vehicle and fled the scene. Shortly after, as Crenshaw was attempting to drive away at a “low rate of speed,” the defendant fired three shots at Crenshaw, killing him.
According to the lawsuit, the defendant had no reason to believe that Crenshaw was going to try to drive into him. As the complaint states, “the trajectory of the bullets entering Nasanto’s body is consistent with Defendant Doe standing on the side of Nasanto’s moving vehicle and not in the trajectory path of Nasanto’s moving vehicle and not in the trajectory path of Nasanto’s moving vehicle.”
“The force used by Defendant Doe shocks the conscience and violated the Fourth Amendment rights of Nasanto,” reads the complaint. “Defendant Doe engaged in the conduct described by this Complaint willfully, maliciously, in bad faith, and in reckless disregard of Nasanto’s protected constitutional rights.” The complaint seeks both compensatory and punitive damages.
“As is standard protocol, the officer involved has been on administrative duty since the day of the incident,” Greensboro Police Department (GPD) spokesperson Josie Cambareri told The Daily Beast. “In addition to the criminal investigation from the [State Bureau of Investigation], GPD does an internal investigation to determine whether or not policies were followed.”
Despite the officer’s disturbing conduct, it’s unclear whether the lawsuit will be successful. Qualified immunity protections have managed to protect police from civil rights lawsuits, even in cases where their behavior explicitly violated a complainant’s rights.
However, the complaint does argue that the defendant is not eligible for qualified immunity, noting that another lawsuit in the same circuit established that officers who “had violated the Fourth Amendment to the extent that they started to use deadly force, or continued to use deadly force … once it was no longer reasonable for them to believe that the car was about to run them (or their fellow officers) over” were not entitled to qualified immunity. While this past precedent provides some hope that Doriety will prevail in her lawsuit against the officer who killed her son, winning the case is still likely to be an uphill battle.