Entrance sign at Tampa Police Department headquarters.
As the family of Dusharn Weems seeks justice in court for their loved one who died after being run over by a Tampa Police Department officer, the cops have tried to use a controversial legal doctrine to have the case thrown out.
But a judge has ruled against TPD’s argument for qualified immunity, which is often used to protect officers accused of wrongdoing, leading police transparency advocates to call for an end to it.
Court documents obtained by Creative Loafing Tampa Bay show that Judge Mary Scriven wrote on Jan. 30 that TPD couldn’t prove Weem’s constitutional rights were upheld when he was run over—which is required in cases where qualified immunity is utilized.
On Oct. 20, 2017, Weems was running on foot from a police traffic stop where he was pulled over in a vehicle that was reported stolen two days earlier. Officer Brian Kremler pursued him into a nearby parking lot and drove toward Weems until his squad car collided with him, dashcam video shows.
“Well, you ain’t going nowhere,” Kremler said after Weems hit the ground.
TPD said in the court documents that it wasn't Kremler’s voice in the video, but provided no evidence.
The court also noted that it seemed like the officer didn’t hurry to help the man who he had just run into. “It does not appear from the dash cam video that officer Kremler rushed to provide immediate aid to Weems,” the court filing said.
The 23-year-old died four days later in the hospital due to the injuries sustained by the collision, leaving behind a young daughter. He was unarmed when Kremler struck him.
According to a 2019 Tampa Bay Times article that was published when the family filed its lawsuit, an autopsy found that Weems died from blunt impact to the head that resulted in a skull fracture, causing contusions and lacerations on his brain.
No media alert was issued when Weems went to the hospital, and his devastated family had to find out on their own that he was hooked up to life support in the days before he passed.
The coroner’s report listed Weems’ death as an accident, saying that he was “struck by police cruiser while running through parking lot.”
However, as Judge Scriven pointed out in court filings, Kremler and TPD’s claim that his striking of Weems was purely accidental hasn’t been proven.
Scriven said that the Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizure by law enforcement.
She added that Officer Kremler contends that the evidence supports that he did not technically “seize” Weems, because he claims he did not intentionally strike Weems with his vehicle.
Kremler argues instead that Weems ran into the passenger side of his vehicle and that he did not use the vehicle to stop or strike Weems as a maneuver to end the foot chase.
In his deposition, Kremler had even argued that he somehow didn’t even see his vehicle and Weems collide. But Scriven pointed out that when viewing the dashboard camera video, it’s not so cut and dry.
“The Court finds that there is record evidence that could support Plaintiff’s contention that Officer Kremler intentionally struck Weems with his vehicle,” Scriven wrote.
She said that in the video, Weems can be seen looking over his left shoulder at the vehicle as it approaches him, and, as he does so, he attempts to veer to the right, away from the vehicle just prior to contact.
“The video also can be viewed as showing that Officer Kremler turned his vehicle slightly to the left, away from Weems, before making a quick turn to the right, striking Weems’ body,” Scriven wrote.
“Additionally, Officer Kremler’s alleged statement immediately after the collision, ‘Well you ain’t going anywhere,’ which can be heard on Officer Kremler’s camera, supports Plaintiff’s contention that the collision was an intentional maneuver to use this deadly force to detain Weems,” Scriven continued.
She added that a reasonable jury “could determine that Officer Kremler intentionally struck Weems with his vehicle for the purpose of seizing him.” Scriven said that a jury could also conclude that if a seizure of Weems did occur, that it could be seen as unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.
Today, TPD confirmed that Kremler is no longer employed there. TPD did not clarify the reason why Kremler is no longer with the department, but FDLE documents say that he voluntarily separated from the department in November of 2019.
In the court filing, several examples of previous court cases where it was ruled that officers are required to judge use of force based on the situation at hand were provided.
TPD officers have argued that Weems posed a substantial threat to officers, even though his back was turned and he was running away when he was hit.
But Scriven pointed out that once Weems left his car unarmed, he no longer posed any kind of threat to officers.
“Moreover, any vehicular threat that Weems may have posed to others while behind the wheel of the Infiniti no longer existed when he encountered Officer Kremler,” Scriven said.
None of the officers involved claimed that there was ever a radio call-out to announce that Weems was a danger, Scrivens wrote. There was an object in his hand but it was identified as an empty Crown Royal bag. None of the cops mentioned the bag as a danger.
“There is sufficient evidence, taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, from which a reasonable jury could find that Officer Kremler acted willfully or with malice when he used clearly excessive force to seize Weems,” Scriven wrote.
After her decision to deny qualified immunity and proceed with the case, TPD has the opportunity to appeal, a process that could play out over several months.
TPD has not responded to a request for comment on the judge's denial of qualified immunity.
Justin Garcia has written for The Nation, Investigative Reporters & Editors Journal, the USA Today Network and various other news outlets. When he's not writing, Justin likes to make music, read, play basketball and spend time with loved ones.