EUCLID, Ohio - The family of an unarmed man shot and killed by a Euclid police officer in March 2017 plans to appeal after a judge dismissed their lawsuit against the city on Friday.
On March 13, 2017, Luke Stewart was shot when police responded to the area of South Lakeshore Boulevard near East 215th Street to investigate a suspicious car. There was an altercation between Stewart and Officer Matthew Rhodes and Stewart was shot.
Rhodes said in the Ohio Attorney General's summary report, "We normally have one vehicle behind and one in front in case they pull forward."
With his vehicle positioned in front of Stewart's car, Rhodes began walking towards the passenger side of the vehicle. Officer Louis Catalani was on the driver's side of the vehicle.
The report shows Catalani attempted to pull Stewart out of the car while Rhodes pushed him from the passenger side area.
During that time, Stewart went for the key and started his car, placing it in drive—hitting Rhodes' patrol vehicle.
"I couldn't get out of the vehicle because it was moving and I didn't want to get smashed between my vehicle and the passenger door, so I basically jumped into the vehicle. I pulled my legs into the vehicle with me to avoid being smashed between the two vehicles," Rhodes said during the investigation.
According to a police report, Rhodes said he deployed his Taser six times to try to get Stewart to stop the car, but it barely had an effect. The officer said he then struck Stewart several times in the side of the face with the Taser, and when that didn’t work, he finally drew his sidearm.
The autopsy report shows Stewart was shot five times.
At the time of the incident, Stewart had three active warrants out for his arrest, according to court documents. Stewart also had a digital scale inside his vehicle, along with a plastic bag containing suspected narcotics.
According to the toxicology report, Stewart had an ethanol level of 0.250 g/dL, which is over three times the legal limit to operate a vehicle in Ohio. His system also tested positive for cocaine and oxycodone.
In August 2017, a grand jury declined to indict Rhodes on any charges.
According to the Friedman and Gilbert, the Stewart family attorney:
"Luke Stewart was a young, unarmed, black man sleeping in car – faced by two aggressive officers, who did not give him an opportunity to get out of the car before they attacked him in his vehicle, and then pursued him in a manner that created danger to Luke, to themselves, and to the whole community. Even though Luke Stewart 'was not attempting to harm Rhodes in the Honda,' he ended up dead. And yet, as the Court explained, victims of police misconduct like Luke Stewart may not be entitled to justice under the law as it is currently written and interpreted."
The attorney said the family is "disturbed by the determination" that a jury will never be able to try Stewart's case and that the approach to police shootings are "becoming increasingly deferential to police — and discounting facts that should require juries to decide whether or not police violated constitutional rights."