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When a Texas police officer responded to a 911 call to do a welfare check on a woman who’d reportedly passed out near a mall, he found 30-year-old Margarita Brooks lying in the grass not far from the shopping center. He asked her if she was OK, and she responded she was “fine.”
But when Brooks’ dog excitedly ran toward the officer, he acted quickly, firing three shots. He grazed the pooch, but fatally struck the mother of three in the chest.
Now, nearly two years later, Margarita’s father, Troy Brooks, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court against Officer Ravinder Singh and the city of Arlington.
“Ms. Brooks was lying peacefully in the grass and posed no threat,” the lawsuit, which was filed last Thursday, says. “Officer Singh disregarded the risk to Ms. Brooks and fired his gun repeatedly in the direction that he knew she was lying. Ms. Brooks was struck in the chest and died an agonizing death.”
Bodycam footage released by the Arlington Police Department the day after the shooting shows Singh firing shots within seconds of coming into contact with Brooks.
“Is that your dog?” he asks as the dog first approaches, moments before ordering the dog to get back. He then draws his weapon and fires.
“Oh my god, the police shot me,” Brooks screams as Singh reports shots fired.
“Ma’am, get ahold of your dog” is the last thing Singh is heard saying as he approaches Brooks before the video ends. Brooks died of her injuries at the hospital shortly after the shooting. The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Brooks’ death a homicide.
Brooks’ dad is suing for $1 million in damages, as well as the cost of his daughter's medical and funeral expenses. The lawsuit also includes the city for issuing the firearm used during the deadly shooting.
“Officer Singh was deliberately indifferent to the risk of Ms. Brooks’ death when he discharged his firearm into her chest,” the lawsuit says. “Officer Singh’s disregard for the risk posed by discharging his firearm precisely in the direction that he knew Ms. Brooks was lying is shocking to the contemporary conscious [sic].”
Lee Merritt, a prominent civil rights attorney, who’s representing the Brooks family, told VICE News that the lawsuit will likely not advance until after Singh’s criminal case moves forward in September. He also acknowledged that in the U.S. Court of Appeals’ Fifth Circuit, a conservative region known to side with officers involved in use of force, this case will be a challenging one to litigate.
“The law is often interpreted to allow law enforcement officers to benefit from qualified immunity in cases where an officer intended to shoot a dog and instead shot a person,” Merritt told VICE News. “We’re hoping to set a precedent in the opposite direction, that when officers’ actions are reckless and foreseeable in terms of the outcome, that they will be held accountable.”
Singh, who joined the Arlington PD in 2012, resigned three months after the shooting, was indicted on negligent homicide charges by a Tarrant County grand jury last September. He faces up to two years in prison if convicted.
Kathy Lowthorp, Singh’s defense attorney in his criminal trial, declined to comment on Brooks’ federal lawsuit. The Arlington Police Department declined to comment on the lawsuit.