Crime

Suit filed over fatal shooting of Proctor-area man by Tacoma police

The family of a man fatally shot by a Tacoma police officer outside his North End home has sued the city.

Officer Jimmy Welsh shot 48-year-old Stephen Cunningham in the chest, after Cunningham grabbed a gun when officers responded to a noise complaint at his home last year.

His father, Phil Cunningham, alleges in the suit that Welsh used excessive force, and that officers at the scene did not identify themselves.

Police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said the department doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

The Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office said in September that the shooting was justified, and that Cunningham had ignored orders to drop the gun and was shot after he pointed it at Welsh.

That’s different from the lawsuit’s account of the shooting.

“The way we understand it, they never communicated who they were to him (Stephen), or ordered him to drop his weapon,” said Cunningham’s attorney, Jesse Froehling.

He filed the suit Tuesday in Superior Court, and it seeks unspecified damages. It names the city, Welsh and other officers.

The lawsuit gives this version of events:

Cunningham and his roommates lived in one unit of a duplex in the 3400 block of South Proctor Street, and his parents lived in the other.

The night of May 10, 2015, he saw flashlights in the fenced yard, grabbed a pistol and ran to the front door. He yelled: “Really, who the (expletive) are you?”

The officers went around the home toward the backyard, Cunningham followed and, as he rounded the corner of the house, Welsh shot him.

A roommate who heard the gunshots did not hear the officers identify themselves, and didn’t know about the officers until they detained him.

Cunningham’s mother, Beverly, told The News Tribune at the time that her son had a confrontation earlier in the day, and that he likely thought the officers were the people he’d had trouble with.

“We’ll find out as the case goes on what was going on earlier in the day,” Froehling said. “Our understanding was that he had some sort of altercation with somebody, and that he might have thought that was the person in his yard.”

In addition to naming the city and Welsh, the suit names Officer Patrick Patterson.

It alleges Patterson and other officers told Cunningham’s parents they had to leave the duplex after the shooting, and didn’t let them return for 12 hours.

Phil Cunningham contends that violated their Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

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