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Lawsuit blames city in death of black driver

A lawsuit filed against St. Petersburg on behalf of the black motorist whose shooting by police last year touched off two nights of racial disturbances accuses the city of tolerating a pattern of excessive force by police.

The suit, which arrived by mail in the Pinellas County clerk's office Wednesday, says the city's attitude resulted in police violating the civil rights of TyRon Lewis, 18, who was shot three times by Officer James Knight after he was stopped for reckless driving during a 55-second confrontation on Oct. 24, 1996.

A county grand jury ruled the shooting justified, but Knight, now 35, was suspended by his department for 60 days because he violated his training. Earlier this week the U.S. Justice Department announced it had been unable to find sufficient evidence to indict Knight on a charge of violating Lewis' civil rights.

Now Lewis' mother, Pamela, has filed suit on behalf of her son's estate, seeking damages in excess of $15,000 for wrongful death as well as violation of civil rights. The six-page complaint does not specify how city officials "permitted and tolerated a pattern and practice of excessive force against the public by police officers."