Police shooting suit moved to federal court

Posted: Tuesday, March 25, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A wrongful death lawsuit stemming from an officer-involved shooting in Fairbanks has been moved to federal court.

The suit was originally filed in state Superior Court against the city, police department and the officer who fatally shot Corwin Vent after a car chase two years ago. It alleges officer Perry Williamson was not justified in firing three rounds at an unarmed Vent, 22, in October 2000.

The lawsuit was filed by attorney Allen Vacura on behalf of Vent's girlfriend and his two-year-old daughter.

Since filing the lawsuit, Vacura has added claims that the shooting violated Vent's civil rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. That's why the case has been moved to U.S. District Court.

A trial is expected to begin in the fall of 2004.

The defendants in the case are represented by Joe Evans, a longtime Alaska private practice lawyer who recently moved to Washington state.

In serious cases, it's common for the city to pay someone outside its two-person attorney's office for representation, said Pat Cole, city administrative services director. Evans has represented the city in past cases, Cole said.

Evans has filed a document in court that denies the claims of wrongdoing alleged in the suit. Plaintiffs say the shooting was an ''unreasonable, unwarranted and excessive use of deadly force'' and the city and police department have failed to adequately train officers in making arrests.

The suit was filed in October, two years after the shooting, which drew an investigation from the FBI and calls from Alaska Native organizations for further inquiry into the death of Vent, an Alaska Native.

Police said officers tried to pull over Vent, who was driving in a borrowed minivan, for reckless driving. Vent reportedly led officers on a pursuit before police called off the chase because it involved excessive speed. The chase resumed after dispatchers received calls reporting the same van driving around town recklessly and running red lights.

Vent again led officers on a chase, which ended at an intersection where Williamson had parked his patrol car in an attempt to block traffic.

Vent allegedly continued to drive slowly forward and didn't obey Williamson's commands to stop. Police said Williamson, who had exited his car, fired three rounds into the van's windshield when the bumper touched his legs. Vent died shortly afterward at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.

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