The family of a Black man killed by a White Euclid police officer in 2017 has been awarded $4.4 million following a wrongful death civil trial in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. The jury on Tuesday found that Euclid officer Matthew Rhodes acted recklessly when he jumped into Luke Stewart’s car and shot him as Stewart drove away.
Rhodes must now pay Stewart’s family $3.9 million for the loss of his support and companionship and $500,000 for the pain and suffering he went through, the panel said, according to Cleveland.com. The jury however declined to award any punitive damages. Stewart’s family saw the verdict as a “double-edged sword.”
“Luke’s still not here,” attorney Marcus Sidoti, who represented Stewart’s family, said. “They didn’t win Luke back, they just got some financial support and accountability from the jury for Rhodes.”
Rhodes fatally shot 23-year-old Stewart at about 7 in the morning on March 13, 2017, after someone reported a suspicious car was parked outside a home on South Lakeside Boulevard in Euclid. Rhodes arrived with a fellow officer and found Stewart asleep inside his car in the driver’s seat. They tried to get him out of the car suspecting he was under the influence.
Stewart tried to drive away when the officers woke him up and it was at that point that Rhodes jumped into the car. Amid a struggle, Rhodes tasered Stewart and hit him before shooting him four times. Rhodes testified that he fatally shot Stewart out of fear that Stewart was going crash into a telephone pole, and that could send him flying through the car’s windshield causing his death, according to Cleveland.com.
Rhodes further testified that Stewart did not hit him before he decided to shoot him. Stewart’s family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and Rhodes, but a trial court dismissed the case. A grand jury also declined to file criminal charges against Rhodes for the shooting.