Jury rejects wrongful death claim from family of veteran killed by Wichita police
The Wichita Eagle August 25, 2022
(Tribune News Service) — A Wichita police officer was acting in self defense when he shot and killed a 26-year-old Marine veteran in front of the man’s family eight years ago, a jury decided Wednesday.
The family of Icarus Randolph had sued the officer, Ryan Snyder, and the city of Wichita seeking $5 million for wrongful death and other allegations in the July 4, 2014 shooting.
But an eight-day trial ended Wednesday afternoon when a jury took less than an hour to find in favor of the officer.
“I wish I could say I was amazed or shocked,” said William Skepnik, lead attorney for the family. “It’s hard for me to not see a racial component in this. I do not believe that a white man or a white family would have been treated this way. These people were treated as people that don’t matter.”
Steven Pigg, lead attorney for the officer and city, said: “The jury system works. ... This is justice.”
Over the course of the past week, the jury heard accounts from family members who witnessed the fatal shooting and from Snyder, the crisis intervention-trained officer who shot Randolph four times in the chest after a Taser failed to stop him.
Randolph’s mother, Beverly Allen, called 911 in the afternoon to request mental health treatment for her son, who suffered from PTSD after serving as an infantry rifleman in Iraq for three years. Randolph had been hospitalized two months earlier for a similar episode. The family believed loud fireworks on the night of July 3 triggered his PTSD.
Snyder and fellow Wichita officer Danny Brown were talking with family members in front of the house when they heard a loud bang from inside. Randolph then kicked through a sliding screen in the den doorway and emerged into the front yard.
Exactly how events unfolded in the next five to seven seconds varies based on who’s giving the account.
Everyone agreed Randolph was shirtless and wearing camouflage Marine capris. They agreed he was holding a pocket knife with an almost 4-inch blade by his side — the same knife he had been holding in his hand since he woke up that morning.
Snyder and Brown told the jury that Randolph had an “aggressive” look in his eyes and “zeroed in” on Snyder, power-walking directly toward him with tensed muscles and clenched fists.
Randolph’s family members said he was staring off into the distance with an unfocused gaze and ambling toward a neighbor’s house when Snyder moved into his path and initiated contact, first deploying his Taser and then switching to his handgun when Randolph continued to advance.
Randolph’s face was blank, sister Elisa Allen testified. “Like he was looking at something that wasn’t even there.”
The family pleaded with him to go back inside, but he did not respond to them.
Neither Snyder nor Brown issued verbal commands to Randolph before Snyder shot him. He was not suspected of any crimes.
“It wasn’t just a head in the clouds situation. It was a determined assault situation,” Snyder testified.
Snyder said he remembers pointing his Glock 17 only at Randolph that day and that Randolph’s mother, sisters, nieces and nephews were comfortably outside of the line of fire when he shot.
The family says Elisa Allen was standing directly behind her brother when Snyder fired his weapon and that he then pointed it at Randolph’s mother when she tried to approach her son after the shooting.
Snyder told the jury he was 5 to 7 feet from Randolph and backpedaling when he shot him with both the Taser and the handgun. Brown told police investigators the day of the incident that Snyder and Randolph were 10 to 15 feet apart.
Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett decided in 2014 not to pursue criminal charges against Snyder, a 17-year veteran of the Wichita Police Department who is now a community police officer in northeast Wichita.
In what has been a seven-year court battle, the civil lawsuit was reopened in 2020 after the Kansas Court of Appeals reversed a Sedgwick County District Court’s dismissal of it.
The trial, in 18th Judicial District Court Judge Deborah Hernandez Mitchell’s courtroom, was delayed more than three months after lawyers representing the city claimed news coverage of the Wichita Police Department’s racist text messaging scandal, first reported by The Eagle, would “inject race” into the killing of Randolph, a Black man.
Randolph was killed two weeks before riots and protests broke out in Ferguson, Missouri, over the police killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager.
In hours of emotional testimony, family said Randolph “wasn’t the same person” after returning from Iraq. He became reclusive, developing a deep religious fixation and struggling to hold down a job.
“He came back wounded. Internally wounded,” Beverly Allen said.
Randolph was other-than-honorably discharged from the Marines in August 2010 after testing positive for marijuana. A Navy appeals board changed that status to “honorable” a year after Randolph’s death, but the circumstances of his discharge meant he was denied care at the VA hospital.
“My son didn’t come see me for about two, three months when he got out,” Beverly said. He was ashamed and felt he had let his family down.
He later moved in with his mother and enrolled in art classes at Wichita State University.
Pigg emphasized to the jury that Randolph’s history of psychosis predated his military service, going back to when he spent several weeks in the Osawatomie State Hospital in 2006 after an apparent break with reality associated with abuse of illicit drugs.
Soon after getting out of the hospital, Randolph graduated from Wichita Southeast High School and enlisted with the Marines.
“He wanted to serve his country. He felt it was the right thing to do,” Elisa Allen said.
He didn’t like to talk much about his three years in Iraq, even to his closest family members.
“He felt uneasy about the things he participated in (in Iraq) that didn’t sit right with his soul,” Ida said.
When he was experiencing an acute PTSD episode, he would sometimes go “catatonic,” family testified, saying July 4, 2014 was one such day when he remained in an unresponsive stupor as they tried to assess his wellbeing.
Snyder, himself a former member of the Marine Reserve, had undergone voluntary crisis intervention training aimed at helping him deescalate situations involving mental health crises.
Icarus Randolph’s last day began when his sister Briana Alford came to wake him up from the couch in their mother’s den. She planned to ask for his help unloading a barbecue grill for the family’s Fourth of July celebration.
He asked her for a cigarette. She said she didn’t have one. That’s when she recalls him telling her “I’m going to unleash the beast.”
He walked outside and into a neighbor’s yard, where he began speaking to a tree and the wind, she testified. Randolph, who was left-handed, was holding his pocket knife with the blade open in his right hand.
“Everything’s talking. You’ve got to be able to listen to it,” Briana remembers her brother telling her.
She took him by the arm and led him back to the den before telling her mother that he was having an episode.
In a 911 call seeking an ambulance to take her son to Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph for mental health treatment, Beverly Allen told dispatch Randolph had something in his hand but that he didn’t have a weapon. Pigg argued that officers may have handled the entire call differently if they had been aware Randolph had a knife before he emerged from the house.
“I certainly didn’t want a confrontation with police with my son in that state,” said Beverly Allen, who watched a Wichita police officer fatally shoot her father in front of the family home when she was 7 years old.
Officers Snyder and Brown testified that they first became aware of the knife in Randolph’s hand when his arm came forward as he was struck by a Taser beam. It’s unclear if the arm movement was caused involuntarily by the Taser strike.
“I’m thinking now it’s a deadly force situation,” Snyder said.
Wichita police sergeant Robert Bolin, who trains officers on threat assessment and defense tactics, testified that police are trained to respond to a “lethal threat” by shooting at the person’s “center mass” and that it’s not unusual to fire additional rounds after hitting them at point-blank range.
“It’s not like the movies where a guy takes one shot and flies backwards and is down,” Bolin said.
Three generations of family members recounted the devastation of that day and the trauma they’ve dealt with in the years since. Licensed psychologist Dr. Jeremy Crosby testified that the five family members he evaluated professionally are all suffering from PTSD and depression.
“I seen my brother fall and I seen him die with his face in the dirt,” Alford said.
“We have to live with, we made the call that killed him,” sister Ida Allen said.
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