TAMPA — The family of a 23-year-old man struck by a Tampa police cruiser two years ago has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city and the officer driving the car at the time.
The lawsuit filed by the estate of Dusharn Weems claims that Tampa police Officer Brian Kremler used excessive force when he “intentionally struck” Weems while trying to apprehend him Oct. 20, 2017. Weems died in the hospital three days later, leaving a young daughter.
“From the very beginning, the family has always said what they want is justice,” said Haydee Oropesa, one of the family’s attorneys. “This could have been prevented.”
Police spokesman Steve Hegarty said the city does not comment on pending litigation.
According to the complaint filed last week in U.S. District Court, Weems was driving on 30th Street near Bougainvillea Avenue when Officer Juan Hernandez ran the tag number and learned the car had been reported stolen.
When Hernandez turned on his lights and siren, Weems pulled into a parking spot at a Family Dollar store and got out. Hernandez drew his gun and told Weems to turn off the car. Weems put the car into reverse or neutral, causing it to roll back into the officer’s car, then drove away, the complaint says.
Hernandez, Kremler and a third officer, each in a different cruiser, pursued Weems, who stopped at the traffic light at 30th and Busch Boulevard and fled on foot into a nearby parking lot, according to the complaint. He was carrying a Crown Royal whisky bag but was not armed at the time.
Hernandez chased Weems on foot. Kremler drove into the lot and “purposely steered into Weems path of travel, with Weems only turning and noticing the police cruiser at the last second before impact and the police cruiser being left on top of Weems," the complaint says.
In video captured by Kremler’s dashboard camera, Weems can be seen running into the picture as Kremler turns into the parking lot. Weems sees Kremler’s car approaching and tries to change direction just before the car strikes him.
“Well, he ain’t going anywhere,” a voice says after the collision.
Weems was taken to Tampa General Hospital and died Oct. 24. An autopsy by the Hillsborough Medical Examiner concluded he died from blunt impact to the head that caused skull fracture resulting in contusions and lacerations on his brain. The report listed the manner of death as accident: “struck by police cruiser while running through parking lot.”
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The lawsuit says that Weems was not a threat to the officers at the time and that Kremler “failed to adequately assess the scene and circumstances for the use of force and in doing so failed to act as a reasonable officer.”
The Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office also concluded the death was an accident that “occurred during the lawful pursuit of Mr. Weems” by Kremler and the other officers. An internal investigation by the Tampa Police Department focused on whether Kremler had adhered to policies and procedures related to vehicle operation and found no violations.
Kremler, 36, joined the department in 2015 and currently works in District 2, which stretches from Hillsborough Avenue to New Tampa.
The mother of Weems’ daughter is Shanteria B. Cooks, listed in the suit as representative of his estate.
Any money would help Weems’ daughter, now 6, but the family also wants to see a policy review by the Tampa Police Department and other law enforcement agencies, Oropesa said.
“Are we going to allow officers to use their vehicles to stop people that are running?" she said. “What we ultimately want is for law enforcement agencies to take a look at this and say, ‘How we can avoid that?’”