In what they called a last resort, lawyers for the family of Antonio Garcia Jr. have filed a lawsuit to see the video of Garcia being shot and killed by a Leavenworth police officer.
Several family members gathered Monday with a team of lawyers in Kansas City, Kan., to announce the open records lawsuit filed against the city of Leavenworth last week. The group said it still needs answers about what happened July 11, 2017.
“What is so difficult for the public to see in this video that you have to hide it?” asked attorney Ben Crump, who has represented other families whose loved ones have been shot by police across the country. “It’s been a year now. You’ve done the investigation ... you don’t need to say no more. Show the video.
“What are they hiding?”
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Officer Matthew Harrington shot and killed Garcia, 47, on July 11, 2017, while investigating a domestic dispute regarding a reported stolen vehicle.
In late January, Leavenworth Police Chief Patrick Kitchens fired Harrington for what the chief said was a violation of the department’s use of deadly force policy. At the time, Kitchens said: “It was my conclusion the use of deadly force was unreasonable.”
Leavenworth County Attorney Todd Thompson said then that a separate investigation was underway to determine if Harrington violated Kansas law.
On Monday, Thompson said the case was “still under review.” When asked when it would be completed, and a decision made on whether charges will be filed, Thompson said: “Hopefully, soon.”
Family members say they still hold out hope that Harrington will face criminal charges.
“An ordinary citizen would already be in jail,” said Tracy Ludeman, Garcia’s aunt.
The shooting of Garcia was prominently featured in The Star’s series in November about the lack of transparency in Kansas government titled, “Why so secret, Kansas?” One article centered on the Leavenworth shooting and the department’s refusal to release police camera footage or the officer’s name. Police only released Harrington’s name in late January when the officer was fired.
A law enacted after the series still doesn’t allow for public disclosure of the footage but does say that family members can see the video within 20 days of a request. According to the wording of that new law, which went into effect July 1, it doesn’t matter the date of the incident, only the time of the request.
Attorneys said Monday that they had requested information — from reports and records to police camera footage — multiple times. The last time they sent a request was in early May.
“Every attempt we’ve made to get this information has been denied,” said Kansas City Attorney Ken Barnes. “They just said they weren’t going to release it. ... We believe quite clearly that the video will show there was no reason, no reason at all, for this officer to pull the trigger that night and end this man’s life.”
After learning about provisions in the new law that went into effect earlier this month, attorneys said they planned to ask again for the family to see the footage.
“We want transparency like the law requires,” said Attorney John Cusick, also of Kansas City. “The family viewing it is a step forward in that, but we requested a lot of other information. We made a pretty extensive request to them when this began and have gotten nothing. We’re completely in the dark.”
A spokeswoman for the city of Leavenworth and Kitchens, the police chief, said they could not comment and referred questions to attorney Michael Seck, who represents the city. Seck could not be reached for comment late Monday afternoon.
Harrington had been dispatched to Garcia’s home in the 1700 block of Rose Street after an argument between family members.
Garcia left the home before Harrington arrived, but soon returned and encountered the officer, according to a release from the police department.
At one point while Garcia was still in his SUV, Harrington fired his weapon, striking and killing Garcia, according to Leavenworth police.
Relatives have said Harrington tried to stop Garcia from leaving, and the two struggled over the door of the vehicle. Garcia tried to drive away, and the officer fired about five shots, relatives said, hitting Garcia in the head and chest.
From the day of the shooting until he was fired six months later, the officer had been on paid administrative leave. He earned $38,140 a year.
Garcia’s family and friends released balloons at his grave in late January on what would have been his 48th birthday.
On July 11, a year from the day Garcia was killed, the close-knit family released balloons again.
Jasmine Roberson, 28, saw her dad about 20 minutes before he was shot. She had planned to see him later that same day.
“I was the last person to see him. It was so unexpected,” she said Monday. “I felt like I should have kept him from going to the house.”
Antoinette Harrington, Roberson’s younger sister and no relation to Matthew Harrington, said her family must see what happened last July.
“We, as the family, would like answers,” she said. “We haven’t had any closure. We can’t heal. We can’t move on from that.”
Toward the end of Monday’s new conference, before Crump led the family in prayer, he reiterated the need to have the information and see what happened. He and the family joined together and chanted several times:
“Say no more. Show the video.”