County of Sacramento Pays $365K in Tax Dollars to Settle Suit from Deputy Shooting Black Man Armed Only with Lighter

By The Vanguard Staff

SACRAMENTO, CA – The county of Sacramento has paid $365,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a man shot by deputies while holding only a lighter for a weapon, according to a settlement agreement, obtained by The Sacramento Bee from a California Public Records Act request.

Of the $365,000 settlement that comes from tax dollars not the deputy, the Bee noted, $259,000 went to Thomas’s attorney Stewart Katz, $100,000 went to Thomas, and $20,000 went to Solano County Department of Child Support for back child support payments.

The incident occurred June 17, 2017, said the Bee, when Kenard Thomas’s ex-girlfriend “called 911 to report she saw Thomas walk by her home in violation of a restraining order, then saw him enter a vacant home on 53rd Avenue, according to a District Attorney’s Office review.

“Four deputies responded, and entered the house looking for Thomas, who was hiding in a bedroom closet, the DA memo stated. Deputy Nicholas Russell opened the closet door, saw Thomas’ face, and fired a shot at him, striking his shoulder,” reported the Bee.

“When Deputy Trummel turned, he saw Thomas at the closet sitting and holding something in his right hand,” the DA memo stated. “Deputy Trummel heard Deputy Russell demand Thomas show him his hands. Thomas crawled out of the closet and dropped the object. It was a Bic lighter.”

A lawsuit Thomas, who is Black, filed against the county alleged Russell acted with racial bias and violated several policies that require deputies to see a suspect’s hands before shooting, noting, “At the time Russell fired the shot, Thomas was shirtless, unarmed, and was not engaging in any assaultive or threatening behavior,” the federal lawsuit, filed in 2018, detailed.

The pleading noted Thomas “had a plastic disposable lighter which was clearly visible in his hand. It was obvious that Thomas did not pose a risk of harm to any person present,” and suffered “significant pain,” as well as permanent disfigurement, and neurological damage that has affected the use of his arm, the lawsuit stated.

Sacramento Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Amar Gandhi declined to tell The Bee whether Russell is still employed as a Sacramento Sheriff’s deputy, but, said the Bee story, Russell told investigators, “I thought he had a knife, he had a gun, I thought he was coming to harm me.”

Then-District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert did not file criminal charges against Russell, she announced in August 2018, and the DA’s office said, “Instead of Thomas identifying his position to the deputies or allowing the deputies to find him and detain him, immediately upon Deputy Russell opening the door Thomas rushed out of the closet directly towards Deputy Russell.

“Deputy Russell perceived Thomas as an imminent threat to his safety at the time he discharged his firearm. Given the circumstances of this particular case, it is not reasonably likely a jury of twelve individuals would unanimously agree that Deputy Russell was unreasonable in his belief that he was in imminent danger of death or great bodily injury at the time of the shooting,” said the DA then.

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