A federal judge has ruled there is evidence that Milwaukee police practices may have endorsed officers’ improper use of deadly force, handing a victory to the family of a man fatally shot by police, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. U.S. District Judge J. P. Stadtmueller refused the city’s request to dismiss a lawsuit by the family of Justin Fields, who was shot in the back by Craig Nawotka as he drove away from officers. Stadtmueller questioned Nawotka’s version that Fields, 21, was trying to run him over. Fields was shot in the back as he was driving slowly away from Nawotka and other officers. The judge said there is evidence neither Nawotka nor anyone else was in danger from Fields.
The suit, filed in 2003, could now move to trial, when the events surrounding Fields’ death would be examined along with the department’s policies on handling and preventing unreasonable use of deadly force. Mark Thomsen, attorney for Fields’ family, said it was the first time a judge has allowed a plaintiff to go to trial against Milwaukee police on the grounds that its policies contributed to a unjustified death. “The judge’s decision confirms what we have believed all along, that this city for far, far too long has failed to conduct adequate administrative reviews and discipline police officers for violating citizens’ constitutional rights,” he said. A Milwaukee County inquest jury found Nawotka’s actions justified. He was suspended for 30 days and is still an officer.