The family of Brandon Roberts, the Milford man shot and killed by police in January 2020, is suing the city of Milford and the two officers who shot him in federal court.
The wrongful death lawsuit claims Cpl. Nigel Golding and Patrolman Patrick Karpin violated Roberts’ Fourth Amendment rights and the city violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Golding is still employed at the department, while Karpin left the department in good standing, according to Milford Police Department Sgt. Robert Masten. He declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Darlene White, Roberts’ mother; could not be reached for comment. She and Erica Jones, the mother of Roberts’ two children, are being represented by Wilmington attorney Joseph Longobardi III and Marc Maguire of the Philadelphia law firm McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt.
Maguire is part of a team of lawyers specializing in excessive force led by attorney Lee Merritt. Merritt is a prominent national civil rights lawyer who has worked on many high-profile cases. Most recently, he represented the family of Ahmaud Arbery.
A motion has been filed to allow Maguire, who is licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania and not Delaware, to prosecute the case.
What happened the night Brandon Roberts was killed
The Delaware Attorney General's Office investigated the events that unfolded the night Roberts died. The office later released 911 calls, body camera footage, interviews and other items related to the incident.
Those items, as well as court documents and interviews with Jones, detail the events leading up to his death.
On Jan. 5, 2020, Roberts was at his home at Silver Lake apartment complex in Milford with a pregnant 28-year-old Jones and their 1-year-old child.
He was experiencing a mental health crisis, according to Jones. Later, according to the Attorney General's Office report, she told police he had been drinking alcohol and consumed Xanax and "molly" (MDMA).
A postmortem toxicology report found Roberts had cannabinoids in his system and a blood alcohol level over 0.1%, according to the Attorney General's Office report. The report did not indicate the presence or lack of presence of any other drugs.
It started with Roberts calling 911 multiple times and hanging up, telling the dispatcher there was a domestic dispute. Delaware Online/The News Journal's review of the calls found, at first, Roberts mostly spoke too quickly to understand or spoke over the dispatcher. Some things he said were audible, though, such as, “He has a gun; he’s about to shoot everybody,” and “I’m holding ’em hostage.”
Eventually, Jones got on the phone with the dispatcher.
“I can’t use my phone because somebody here keeps trying to hit on me while I’m pregnant and he won’t let me use my phone,” she said in the recording.
Jones told the dispatcher she didn’t want to provide their apartment number “because he keeps trying to go out there with a knife,” but Roberts gave the apartment number in the background.
“And any cops that pull up here, I’m killing all y’all (expletives), pull up,” he said. “Yeah, I've got a weapon, I got a big (expletive) machete, I got an AK-47 and a bomb strapped to me. I'm part of ISIS. I'm about to blow this whole (expletive) up."
The dispatcher could hear Jones say to him, “You put your hands on me and you hit (the child) by accident."
“Y’all gonna have to shoot me ’cause I’m not going to jail,” Roberts said.
Roberts then said heard saying Jones could leave, but Jones told the dispatcher he wouldn't let her out of the room. He had “only a knife,” a “house knife,” and no gun, she said.
When asked if she needed an ambulance, Jones said she did.
“He’s been punching me in my head, punching me in my back and everything, and in my ribs and stuff and I’m pregnant," she said.
Jones told the dispatcher multiple times Roberts has mental disabilities, according to the recording, and dispatch communicated to police that Roberts might be “a mental patient," according to body camera footage.
As Golding approached the apartment complex, a dispatcher can be heard in his body camera footage telling him, “(Roberts) is threatening a machete and an AK-47. He said he is going to be violent with law enforcement.”
The last thing Jones said to the dispatcher before police arrived was, “Please take it easy on him because his is bipolar and he is schizophrenic. And yes, he does have a mental disability, anxiety and a lot of other problems that we don’t know yet.”
Golding and Karpin climbed the stairs to the second-floor apartment with their guns drawn at about 6:30 p.m. Golding knocked on the door and said, “Milford police.”
"Corporal Golding and Patrolman Karpin did not make any attempt to communicate with Mr. Roberts or (Jones) through the door of the apartment or de-escalate the situation in any manner," the lawsuit claims.
Roberts opened the door slightly, and both officers began yelling, “Let me see your hands!”
Continuing to yell at Roberts to raise his hands, Golding pushed open the door. Forcing the door open "escalated the interaction," according to the lawsuit.
Roberts, with a knife in one hand at his side, said, “Shoot me!” as he took two or three steps into the hallway, toward Golding.
Golding told investigators that Roberts was “raising the knife towards him” and that he thought he was “a dead man.” The Attorney General's Office report says Roberts "began to raise his knife."
The lawsuit claims Roberts never raised his knife. Delaware Online/The News Journal found it to be unclear in the video.
Yelling and shots are heard on the 911 recording, then the baby cries.
Karpin discharged his weapon first, and firin seven shots total. Golding fired three shots. Roberts was hit eight times.
“Oh, my God, they really shot him,” Jones said, and the dispatcher hung up.
Roberts dropped the knife and fell to the ground, bleeding. The video shows less than five seconds passed between the time he first opened the door and he was shot.
The Attorney General's Office found Golding and Karpin were justified in their use of force and committed no crime.
What the lawsuit means
The lawsuit claims Roberts "posed no imminent risk of death or serious bodily injury to the officers" and that he "died an agonizing death."
Roberts had a disability, the lawsuit states, and the officers' conduct demonstrated the city of Milford's failure to develop procedures and policies to accommodate it, which is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Roberts, according to the lawsuit, died due to that failure.
White and Jones are asking for damages from both the officers and the city.
A court date has yet to be scheduled.
This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Wrongful death lawsuit filed against Milford and 2 police officers