The family of a man shot and killed by an off-duty police officer in California has filed a wrongful death lawsuit.
Eric Reason, 38, died in November 2019 after being shot by Sgt. Virgil Thomas, an off-duty Richmond police officer, NBC News reported. Videos of the incident show a heated dispute between the two men before Thomas shot Reason as he was running away, fatally wounding him, according to the station.
Investigators cleared Thomas, writing that he defended himself when he killed Reason, The Mercury News reported.
Thomas died from COVID-19 complications in August. But an investigation into the shooting is still ongoing by the Richmond Community Police Review Commission, reported the Richmond Pulse.
The lawsuit, filed Sept. 21 in U.S. District Court for Eastern District of California, is filed against Richmond, Vallejo, and Thomas’ estate, among others, for violating Reason’s civil rights..
The suit said Vallejo police didn’t sequester Thomas and allowed him to take photos of Reason’s body and “disturb the crime scene.”
The suit also said the police tried to justify the shooting by issuing a press release “in an effort to conceal the criminal actions of Sergeant Thomas and quell public outrage.”
“This case sticks out because of the egregious nature of the shooting, but also the way it was handled by the Vallejo police afterward,” Melissa Nold, who is representing Reason’s family, told the Vallejo Times-Herald on Tuesday.
“The city attorney’s office has not yet been able to evaluate the claim. However, the city is saddened by the death of Eric Reason and sends condolences to his family,” Vallejo Public Information Officer Christina Lee said in a statement to Vallejo Times-Herald. “Mr. Reason’s family is fully within their rights to file a lawsuit to seek redress and compensation. The city. . . will proceed with integrity and compassion to address the claims raised by Mr. Reason’s family in a fair and objective manner.”
Thomas’ attorney said he was “only protecting himself” and that he had “no other choice” but to shoot when Reason had a gun, according to NBC News.
In the videos released by Vallejo, Reason is seen pulling away from a gas station pump while Thomas drives toward an empty parking spot. They get into a verbal altercation and Reason walks away and appears to grab something from his van. When he comes back, Thomas pulls out a gun and fires. The videos show Thomas continuing to shoot at Reason while he runs away.
The lawsuit asks for damages “including but not limited to, past, present and/or future wage loss, income and support, medical expenses and other special damages in a sum to be determined.”