The family of a suicidal 17-year-old who was shot and killed by a Benton police officer in October sued the city, the police chief and the responsible officer on Monday, claiming that the boy's civil rights were violated.
Saline County prosecutor Ken Casady ruled in December that Benton police officer Kyle Ellison acted in self-defense when he fired three shots at Keagan Schweikle's chest on Oct. 17, but his family's federal complaint alleges that his life was taken "needlessly and senselessly."
The suit also asserts that Benton police "disparaged" Schweikle's name and reputation to media members the day of the shooting and in subsequent written reports to "avoid responsibility for their actions."
Ellison in his written statement and Benton police at the time said that Schweikle, who had fled from his mother into a wooded area in the 1200 block of River Oaks Drive, pointed a gun at officers before Ellison fired. However, the suit -- summarizing Ellison's interview with investigators 10 days after the shooting -- said Ellison shot Schweikle as the teenager lowered a pistol from his own head.
"Despite doing exactly as he was commanded by Ellison, he was shot dead," the complaint reads.
Schweikle, then a junior at Harmony Grove High School, was one of 21 people killed by police in Arkansas in 2016, and he was one of five who showed signs of mental illness, according to an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette analysis.
The Benton Police Department held its own investigation into Ellison's use of force. The department is one of a handful in Arkansas that does not request an outside agency to investigate instances of deadly force. Critics argue that deadly force investigations should be conducted by an independent agency to avoid conflicts of interest.
Reached by phone Monday evening, Rick Holiman, an attorney for Schweikle's family, said, "It would be inappropriate for me to comment at this time."
In addition to Ellison, the city of Benton and Police Chief Kirk Lane are named as defendants. Lane last week announced plans to leave the department next month to serve as the new chairman of the Arkansas Alcohol and Drug Abuse Coordinating Council.
Attempts to reach city officials late Monday night were unsuccessful.
The family's suit paints a detailed picture of the morning that led to Ellison and Schweikle's confrontation along the banks of the Saline River.
Schweikle's mother, Piper Partridge, picked him up from school at about 10 a.m. because he had been suspended for having prescription cough medicine.
Schweikle was said to be active in the student body, but he also battled depression, the complaint noted.
On the way home with his mother, the 17-year-old began crying and making suicidal statements.
Partridge planned to take her son immediately to Arkansas Children's Hospital, but she needed to stop at home for her purse and insurance card, the suit said.
At home, Schweikle retrieved a handgun and began walking down the street. His mother caught up to him at a trail in the woods where he sat on a bench crying.
There, Partridge watched her son raise a 9mm pistol to his head. She persuaded him to lower the weapon, but called police when he wouldn't walk up the steps to meet her, the suit said.
Several other officers were at the scene before Ellison arrived with his police dog, Duco. He confronted Schweikle from 15 yards away, according to a police report.
Schweikle again raised the pistol at himself, and Ellison told him to drop the gun, the report said.
In his written statement, Ellison said Schweikle then pointed the gun in his direction, prompting him to shoot three times out of fear for his life.
"I stopped firing after the third round when the subject dropped the gun and fell to the ground," Ellison wrote.
The suit, drawing from Ellison's interview with investigators, alleges that Schweikle "simply began to move the gun away from his head when Ellison fired three quick shots."
Ellison was also one of two officers who shot and killed Clifford Jones in 2013 after a lengthy car chase during which Jones fired a gun at pursuing officers, according to a police report.
Ellison and another officer are also being sued in federal court by Timothy Eichenberg, who alleges that Ellison and Benton police officer Brett Carpenter used excessive force while off duty during an incident outside Applebee's in 2014.
Metro on 07/18/2017
Print Headline: Family sues Benton, police chief, officer who fatally shot teenage boy in '16