A Fort Worth man who claims police shot him in the back is suing the Police Department for using excessive force and deliberately fabricating evidence to charge him with felony assault, according to a federal lawsuit.
Jeremi Rainwater, 36, was shot on his front porch by a member of a Fort Worth police zero-tolerance team in December 2015. Officers had surrounded his home after being told Rainwater had been involved in shooting up a car with a shotgun at a nearby bar.
Police officers contend Rainwater came out of his home, pointed a black semiautomatic pistol at them and ignored two pleas to drop the gun, an affidavit states. The police officers contend Rainwater was shot to protect the officers from an immediate threat.
Rainwater said that he never knew the police were outside his home when he came out on his porch to investigate what was agitating his dogs, that his gun was always pointed at the ground and that his wounds indicate he was shot in the back, according to the lawsuit, filed on Tuesday.
Never miss a local story.
Rainwater’s lawsuit states that the zero-tolerance team’s practices are such that officers “shoot first and ask questions later” and that “military style” policies encourage the use of excessive force on civilians.
The police also “deliberately fabricated evidence and used it to try and frame and to bring false assault charges” against Rainwater, charges that were eventually dismissed by a Tarrant County grand jury, records show. The lawsuit also states that the officers’ objective in fabricating evidence was to justify their actions.
“This is a case people need to know about because so many officers were involved,” said Rainwater’s attorney, Kervyn Altaffer of Dallas. “They are investigating someone who was accused of assaulting a car, but they came at him like he was a terrorist.”
Rainwater, who was out of work for more than a year after the shooting, is suing for actual and punitive damages. His medical bills so far are about $448,000 and he expects to pay more. He also said he lost his job as a paralegal and later lost his home in foreclosure because he was unable to work.
Deputy City Attorney Gerald Pruitt said that he has not seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on its specific allegations but that Rainwater’s alleged behavior warranted a strong police response.
“There is no law against carrying a long arm, but there is one about shooting it in a public parking lot,” Pruitt said. “I think the police should come when someone starts shooting up cars in a parking lot.”
A spokesman for the Fort Worth police did not immediately respond when asked for a comment.
The incident began at about 10 p.m. in the parking lot of Dublin Square, a sports bar on the city’s north side. Police were called after Rainwater fired two shotgun blasts at a car owned by his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend, an affidavit states. Witnesses told police they saw Rainwater flee on foot.
The girlfriend told police that she knew Rainwater had shot the car because he had just left the bar “very upset.” She also told police that Rainwater had been “violent to her in the past.” She gave the police Rainwater’s address, which was for a home nearby on Friendsway Drive, an affidavit shows.
Officers were establishing a perimeter around the home and had not yet contacted Rainwater when they say he came out his front door and onto the porch. Officer A. Smith immediately illuminated Rainwater with his weapon light and ordered him to drop the gun twice, records show. When he refused, Rainwater was shot.
A search of the home by the police found a 12-gauge shotgun consistent with the one used to shoot the car.
Rainwater remembers the incident differently.
He said he was in bed when his dogs began barking and wouldn’t let him sleep. Rainwater didn’t hear anyone at his door but got up to see what was agitating his pets. He grabbed his pistol, turned on the porch light and went outside, always keeping the gun at this side, the lawsuit states.
Since Rainwater didn’t see or hear anything else, he turned to go back inside when he “felt a thud in his back and then heard what sounded like a gunshot,” the lawsuit said. Because of his pain, the lawsuit said, he didn’t even realize he had been shot a second time. Rainwater never saw the police officers and he said they never illuminated him with a light, court records show.
Medical experts confirmed Rainwater was shot in the back. The first bullet entered his lower back 1 inch left of his spinal cord. It hit his small intestine and fractured the right wing of his pelvis before exiting the body, the lawsuit states. The second bullet entered 1 inch to the right of his spine, injuring parts of his right lung, and displacing several ribs and shattering parts of his upper right arm bone, the lawsuit states.
“The wounds, if you believe the officer, would have to be somewhere other than in the square of the back,” Altaffer said. “There is no way that Jeremi is pointing his pistol at someone.”
In March 2016 a grand jury no-billed Rainwater on the assault charges and there are no plans for the district attorney’s office to pursue them, said spokeswoman Samantha Jordan. She said Rainwater received deferred adjudication for shooting the car in a plea deal in May.
While not admitting his client shot the car, Altaffer agrees that what his client initially did “was not a smart thing to do.” But he said the police simply went too far in this case. The lawsuit states that Rainwater did not have a criminal record to warrant this kind of armed response.
“It is an overreaction for what they were there for,” Altaffer said. “I think the public needs to know that the police do things like that.”