The family of Leonard Thomas, an unarmed, 30-year-old father killed by a SWAT sniper, was speechless after hearing a federal jury decide their estate should receive $15 million for his wrongful death. The Thomas family award is one of the largest police deadly force verdicts in Washington state history.
When it came to the actual decision, the jury ruled in favor of the Thomas family and estate on every count: unreasonable seizure, excessive force, deprivation of family relationship, using explosives to breach the home, unreasonably killing the family dog, false arrest, negligent investigation and causing severe emotional distress.
Thomas’s mother could not believe the verdict when she heard it.
“I’m shaking, to be honest,” Annalesa Thomas, Leonard Thomas’s mother told the Seattle Times. “I am so grateful to this jury and this verdict. Hopefully this will make a change in policy and protocol. Lethal force should always be the last option.”
Thomas’s son, who was 4 years old when his father was killed in front of him, was in the courtroom when the verdict was read.
“I’m so glad he was there and saw that someone stood up for his father,” Annalesa Thomas said.
Tim Ford, one of her attorneys, said the verdict “feels pretty good” after an exhausting trial.
“This verdict shows that Leonard Thomas’s life mattered,” Ford said.
Thomas was killed in 2013 after he neglected to take his medication for bipolar disorder and ended his year-long sobriety with a night of drinking. Annalesa said he began drinking on June 23, 2013, after learning about the death of a childhood friend.
When Annalesa noticed Thomas’s behavior, she called the police. According to the Seattle Times, Thomas and his mother had argued and he slapped the cellphone out of her hand while she was on the phone with police dispatch.
Once police arrived at their home, a four-hour standoff occurred wherein Thomas refused to exit the home. However, at this time he was not armed and never threatened anyone, according to testimony.
Eventually, negotiators convinced Thomas to let his young son home with his grandmother. During the standoff, officers were instructed not to let Thomas back in the house with the child. Lakewood Chief Mike Zaro, the SWAT commander, ordered an explosive breach of the home’s back door.
Officers used plastic explosives to flatten the back door, shot the family dog, Baxter, at least five times, and rushed into the house.
After hearing the explosion, Thomas went to grab his son and was shot by Lakewood Sgt. Brian Markert with a.308-caliber rifle. After the shooting, Markert claimed Thomas was trying to strangle the boy.
Based on the testimonies given, the jury found the police claim that Thomas was holding his son hostage or using him as a human shield to be invalid.
(Photo: Robert Daly/Getty Images)