ASHTABULA, Ohio (WJW) — One year after the shooting death of a young man by an Ashtabula police officer, a civil lawsuit filed on behalf of his estate states his death was the result of excessive force during a mental health crisis.
David Ward Jr., 23, called 911 on April 13, 2022, from the Spring Street Bridge while he was alone just after midnight, admittedly intoxicated and suicidal.
“David had been struggling with depression and anxiety and on that night, he was in crisis, and he made a plea for help and what he got was a sniper bullet to the chest,” said Attorney Matt Besser of Bolek Besser Glesius LLC.
According to the lawsuit, Ward was armed with a shotgun when he was shot in the chest and killed by an officer using a sniper rifle from a distance of 482 feet, more than a football field and a half away, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio Tuesday names the City of Ashtabula, the Ashtabula police chief, and the officer who pulled the trigger in both his professional and personal capacity as defendants.
It states the officer was, “Hidden from view and with near-total cover,” when he shot Ward with a .308 caliber sniper rifle at a distance far away enough to use a rifle scope of 16x magnification.
Ward picked up and put down a shotgun several times during the incident, the lawsuit describes, before being shot just before 1:30 a.m.
“The gun was unloaded, and he never pointed it at anybody and, in fact, he was holding his cell phone in his right hand when they shot him,” Besser said.
Besser said other officers present did not fire their weapons, and Ward was not warned deadly force would be used before he was shot.
A delay in medical care is also noted in the suit, stating that after Ward was shot, five minutes passed once he was placed inside an ambulance before it left for the Ashtabula County Medical Center. EMS arrived 16 minutes after placing him inside the ambulance.
The lawsuit states that the Ashtabula Police Department has a history of officers engaging in excessive force, including, “Shooting people preemptively who are not pointing a gun at anyone.”
It goes on to describe how the officer named in the suit shot Brendan Hester in 2017, three times inside his family home while he was holding a burglar at bay with a handgun. Hester was paralyzed as a result of the shooting.
Ashtabula Police Chief Robert Stell declined to comment.
The city solicitor said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on pending litigation.