Judge: Lawsuit in Brandon Tate-Brown Shooting Can Proceed

The city sought to have the federal civil rights lawsuit that was filed by Tate-Brown's family dismissed.

Attorney Brian Mildenberg (center), Tanya Brown-Dickerson (right), mother of Brandon Tate-Brown (Matt Rourke/AP)

Attorney Brian Mildenberg (center), Tanya Brown-Dickerson (right), mother of Brandon Tate-Brown. (Matt Rourke/AP)

Relatives of Brandon Tate-Brown, who was fatally shot during a violent struggle with two Philadelphia police officers in 2014, savored a legal victory today, as a federal court judge rejected a motion from city attorneys to dismiss the civil rights lawsuit that Tate-Brown’s family filed last fall.

Tate-Brown’s mother, Tanya Brown-Dickerson, released a statement through her attorney, Brian Mildenberg, that read: “I am relieved and gratified that the federal court denied the city’s motion to dismiss all claims in this lawsuit and look forward to our day in court when the police officers will have to answer for their changing stories and explain to a federal jury why they killed Brandon Tate-Brown when they now admit he was not reaching into his vehicle for a gun when they shot him in the back of the head.

But this development — much like the case itself — is anything but simple. Let’s try to make sense of everything.

What Was Dismissed: U.S. District Court Judge Stewart Dalzell did dismiss a handful of claims in the lawsuit, beginning with a wrongful death claim against the city itself. (Dalzell allowed a wrongful death claim against Officers Nicholas Carrelli and Heng Dang, the two cops who were involved in the shooting, to proceed.)

A claim of ethnic intimidation was dismissed, given a lack of evidence “to allow us to draw the reasonable inference that Officers Carrelli and Dang pulled over Tate-Brown’s car and then falsely arrested, assault, battered and killed him with a malicious intent motivated by ethnic hatred,” Dalzell wrote.

The judge also dismissed claims of discrimination in a federally-funded program, racial targeting and earlier class-action aspects of the lawsuit.

What Wasn’t Dismissed: Dalzell allowed claims of false arrest, assault, battery and federal civil rights violation against Carrelli and Dang to proceed.  The judge also referenced the myriad training and policy problems in the Philadelphia Police Department that were identified by the U.S. Department of Justice last spring.

The city argued that not all of the policy changes recommended by the DOJ pertained to a case like Tate-Brown’s. “All of the DOJ Report’s recommendations come from identified deficiencies in the existing training,” Dalzell wrote. “At this early stage, plaintiff has pled sufficient facts that, if accepted as true, could make a plausible claim that the need for more or different training was sufficiently obvious, and the inadequacy so likely to result in the violation of citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights, that the city could be found to have been deliberately indifferent.”

What It All Means: This won’t be the last you hear about the Tate-Brown case, which attracted national attention and has been the primary focus of Black Lives Matter protests across Philadelphia for more than a year.