Courtney Williams, 15, was shot by a Minneapolis officer in circumstances the family disputes. His mom sued last month, demanding answers.
The answers aren't any clearer for Tahisha Williams-Brewer, the pain of her son's death no less intense.
Six years ago, a Minneapolis police officer shot 15-year-old Courtney Williams when he raised his arm during an encounter as a foot chase ended. The officer said he saw Williams raising a gun. Williams' family said the teen was moving his arms up in surrender. A grand jury cleared officer Scott Mars.
Williams' death remains one of the department's most controversial episodes. The police chief at the time, Bill McManus, took unprecedented steps to give Courtney's family access to investigators and to keep community leaders in the loop.
Now, the case has resurfaced as his mother filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city and Mars last month. Emotionally and physically, Williams-Brewer said, she can finally handle the stress of reliving that time through upcoming legal wrangling and a potential trial.
"I'm at a place right now where I can deal with his death," said Williams-Brewer. "But I've been dealing with it every day because we never got any justice."
Williams, a freshman basketball player at Edison High School and aspiring rapper, was hanging out with a group of friends after a birthday party around midnight Oct. 23, 2004.
Mars, responding to a shots-fired call, came upon Williams in the 3000 block of Knox Avenue N. The teen and his friends scattered when officers arrived because they were concerned about violating curfew.
According to court documents, Mars repeatedly yelled for Courtney to stop. The officer said he fired when the boy stopped, turned and raised an arm after grabbing a gun from his waist. Courtney was shot twice.
A pellet gun resembling a .45 caliber handgun was found 15 feet from his body, police said. Jill Clark, the family's attorney, says a gun was found on the other side of a 6-foot fence from where Courtney was killed.
Allegations, city response
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Minneapolis last month, alleges that Mars used excessive force because the teen was complying with the officer's orders. It also accuses the police department of being one of the few in the United States that has a mandatory "shoot to kill" policy if officers fire at civilians.
Another allegation is that the grand jury received a short investigation of Courtney's death by the police department instead of a more extensive secondary inquiry involving interviews of eyewitnesses.
The case was the first test of a new department policy in which officer-related shootings were investigated internally instead of by an outside law enforcement agency. Clark has received a court order to get the grand jury transcript.
"The shorter investigation, which was only a couple of days, appeared designed to justify the shooting and not determine if the officer did anything wrong," Clark said.
Attorneys for Minneapolis have filed a response to the suit, denying all the allegations. Mars, who was fired from the police department two years ago on an unrelated gun conviction, could not be reached for comment.
The lawsuit is the second involving a police shooting to be in the news in recent weeks. Late last month, a jury awarded $1.8 million to the family of Dominic Felder, who was fatally shot in 2006 by Minneapolis police responding to a 911 call involving deadly threats he made against his ex-girlfriend.
'They all want answers'
When Courtney was killed, a false rumor that he was shot in the back spread through the community. To this day, Williams' mother denies he ever had a gun.
Police said his fingerprint was found on the pellet gun, and Mars testified in an affidavit that he heard the teen say "I have a gun" seconds before he shot him.
Williams-Brewer rushed to the scene after receiving a frantic phone call from a friend. When she arrived, she said, police told her a dog had been shot and no juveniles had been injured.
Police eventually told her Courtney had been taken to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, where a coroner came to the chapel to tell her he was dead.
Even with McManus' efforts to inform the family about the investigation, Williams-Brewer didn't think the department was very forthcoming. She did praise Sgt. Charlie Adams, who was assigned to the homicide unit at the time, for his openness.
Williams-Brewer said her son was a quiet, well-mannered kid and good student who was never in trouble. His death still hits hard with his five siblings ages 9 to 20.
On the anniversary of his death, his family gathers for a "Sunday dinner." It's always emotional because "they feel like it's not over," Williams-Brewer said.
"When I discussed with my kids that all this will be brought back up with the lawsuit, they said to go ahead and do it," she said. "They all want answers. Nobody knows what happened."
David Chanen • 612-673-4465