OKLAHOMA CITY -- An Oklahoma woman whose four children, aged 1 to 5, were inside a pickup truck when police officers opened fire on a man also in the vehicle, wounding three of the kids, has taken the first step toward suing the city of Hugo.
A tort claim dated Dec. 6 against the city by Olivia Hill seeks unspecified monetary damages for pain and suffering, mental anguish and emotional distress, current and future medical bills and counseling, and damages to the truck.
Hill's attorney, Damario Solomon-Simmons, did not immediately return phone calls for additional comment.
“The shooting was objectively unreasonable, unnecessary, and reckless or negligent, and the City of Hugo and other members of the (Hugo Police Department) were negligent in hiring, training, and supervising the Officers who perpetrated it,” according to the claim, which is the first step toward a potential lawsuit against the city about 150 miles (241 kilometers) southeast of Oklahoma City.
Attorney Scott Wood, who was hired to represent the city, said the claim was received Wednesday.
“We feel like the case is totally defensible. People use vehicles as weapons all the time,” Wood said. "The officers certainly didn’t realize there were children in the car and certainly had the right to protect themselves” as the truck was backed in their direction.
The April 26 shooting occurred after undercover Detectives Billy Jenkins and Chad Allen followed the truck driven by William Devaughn Smith, who was wanted in connection with an armed robbery.
After stopping, the detectives approached the truck, telling Hill they needed to speak with Smith, who did not recognize them as police officers.
"The officers continued to approach the truck from behind, and within seconds, gunfire erupted from the officers’ service weapons in the direction of the truck," the claim states. “Mr. Smith — who was not from the Hugo area and did not know the plain-clothed men driving an unmarked vehicle were law enforcement officers — placed the truck in reverse and backed up until the truck crashed into some poles approximately twenty yards away from the officers."
A review of the shooting obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request shows a panel of five Hugo police officers and the Choctaw County sheriff found neither detective violated department policy.
Hugo fired Police Chief Jon Paul Bozeman on June 18, according to personnel records obtained through a public records request. A document signed by Hugo's city manager lists the reason for Bozeman's discharge as, “police dept is going in a different direction.”
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation also probed the shooting and provided a report to District Attorney Mark Matloff, who declined comment Wednesday.
OSBI spokeswoman Brooke Arbeitman said the report contains only facts learned by agents and "does not make any recommendation or whether or not to file charges.”
The city has 90 days under state law to respond to the claim. If it does not respond, the claim is considered denied and Hill can then file a lawsuit against the city.