PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - On behalf of his three young children, the grieving girlfriend of a schizophrenic Loxahatchee man is suing the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office and one of its deputies for his shooting death at the hands of that PBSO deputy on New Year's Eve.
According to the wrongful death lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday, Dayna Clawson claims Deputy Justin Rigney had no reason to fatally shoot Ricky Whidden.
"This case involves another in a long line of unjustified police shootings by officers of PBSO, in which Justin Rigney acted consistently with PBSO practices, policies, procedures of customs of condoning aggressive police tactics, failing to identify, train, discipline, or otherwise properly supervise officers who have engaged in excessive and unjustified use of force on persons who suffer from mental illness, and ratifying the conduct of those officers with little or no investigation," the lawsuit claims.
Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia two years earlier, Whidden, 46, told his parents to call 911 that night. Whidden's mom said she told the 911 dispatcher that her son had a mental illness, and a knife in his hand, but was not threatening them.
PBSO says its deputies were dispatched to the 13000 block of Compton Rd. in Loxahatchee after a report of a man armed with a knife threatening himself and his family members.
The sheriff's office said Whidden refused to comply with commands from deputies and was shot twice with non-lethal bullets, which knocked him down.
When deputies approached Whidden in an attempt to take him into custody, PBSO says he jumped up and lunged at the deputies.
Deputy Justin Rigney then discharged his firearm, according to a PBSO spokesperson.
But the lawsuit claims surveillance footage from a neighbor’s house "makes clear that no negotiation occurred nor were commands given to Whidden, particularly before the firing of any weapons."
Stuart Kaplan, an attorney for the Whiddens, claims the 911 call with Whidden's mother lasted 40 minutes, during which time Whidden's mother remained on the phone with PBSO, but "Defendant Rigney and other deputies of PBSO responded to the scene, immediately escalated to the situation, and shot Whidden in the back multiple times as he was running away from the deputies."
Kaplan also claims that when Whidden lay bleeding on the ground, Rigney then turned his police dog loose on him.
"PBSO failed to properly train sheriff's deputies in the appropriate methods, proper procedures and protocols with respect to how to interact and subdue a mentally ill individual and how to utilize appropriate levels of force during encounters," the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount in damages for the couple’s children and Whidden’s parents.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement recently completed an investigation into the shooting and sent it to the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office.
When asked for comment, The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office said as of Tuesday, it had not received a copy of the lawsuit.