Family of Kansas man killed by police officer settles wrongful death lawsuit

The family of a Leavenworth man who was fatally shot by a police officer in 2017 has settled a wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit for $1 million.

Antonio Garcia Jr. was shot to death on July 11, 2017, while sitting in a car in the driveway of his home, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas.

Garcia’s wife, Heather Garcia, said in the lawsuit that the officer, Matthew Harrington, unjustifiably shot and killed her husband. She also said Garcia’s civil rights were violated by what the suit called the city’s “shoot-first-ask-questions-later” policy.

Harrington was fired and a grand jury indicted him on a charge of involuntary manslaughter. That criminal case is ongoing.

Garcia’s family reached the settlement with the city and the officer in late August.

During a hearing Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Julie Robinson approved the settlement in regards to two of Garcia’s children.

Heather Garcia said after the hearing that Antonio Garcia had an active role in the family and his death opened a hole in it. She hopes the settlement sends a message to police officers and people of every race not to judge and react too quickly.

“Everyone has a story,” she said.

“I just want people to know that no amount of money will take the place of Antonio Garcia.”

Antonio Garcia Jr. Submitted photo

Under the settlement, about $369,000 will go to attorney’s fees and court costs. Heather Garcia will receive half what remains — about $315,000. Garcia’s six children — four adults and two minors — will split the remainder equally.

The settlement will dismiss the lawsuit, including the wrongful death and civil rights claims.

Criminal case ongoing

The criminal case against Harrington proceeded last week in Leavenworth County District Court, with a hearing to determine whether Harrington could have legal immunity.

Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent James Bridges testified that Harrington should have stepped away and called for backup instead of opening fire.

Bridges testified that Garcia did not pose a threat to Harrington.

During the hearing, prosecutors showed video of the shooting, recorded on Harrington’s body camera. That video has not been released to the public.

Matthew Harringto_fitted.jpeg
Matthew Harrington, a former Leavenworth police officer, is pictured in a booking photo dated August 13, 2018. He has been indicted in a fatal police shooting that occurred while he was on duty in 2017. Leavenworth County Sheriff's Office

Harrington’s attorney, Mike Nichols, argued that Garcia posed a threat when he failed to comply with Harrington’s demands.

The judge in the case will issue a decision at a later date.

The shooting of Garcia was prominently featured in The Star’s 2017 series 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 video or the officer’s name. Police released Harrington’s name when he was fired.

A law enacted after the series still doesn’t allow for public disclosure of the video but does say that family members can see it within 20 days of a request. According to the wording of that law, the date of the incident doesn’t matter — only the time of the request.

KC Blotter newsletter: Crime, courts, more

Stay up-to-date on crime, courts and other stories from around the Kansas City region. Delivered to your inbox every morning, Monday-Saturday.

Related stories from Kansas City Star

Robert A. Cronkleton gets up very early in the morning to bring readers breaking news about crime, transportation and weather at the crack of dawn. He’s been at The Star since 1987 and now contributes data reporting and video editing.