Jury awards $125,000 to family of 'Lost Boy' killed by DPS officer

Category: Diaspora
Published on Monday, 16 March 2009 05:10
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Joseph Moi's life took him from war-torn Africa as a child to Arizona as a teenager, but it ended at the hands of a Department of Public Safety officer in an Interstate 17 median in February 2005.

A jury recently awarded Moi's family $125,000 in a verdict that found DPS Officer Travis Palmer acted unreasonably when he shot Moi in the back of the head as the former "Lost Boy" of Sudan ran from Palmer.

DPS Director Roger Vanderpool called the situation a tragedy.

"I want to make sure that everyone knows how much we value life," said Vanderpool, who took over as DPS director shortly after the shooting. "Sometimes our officers have to make really quick decisions in a short time period. It's just a terrible situation all the way around."

The court case took two years but the exchange on that median in 2005 took about five minutes.

The drivers cruising down I-17 that late Saturday afternoon in February immediately knew something was wrong: In the middle of I-17 near Anthem, a DPS officer was struggling with a man who ultimately backed up and began tossing rocks at the officer.

Witnesses alternately described Moi as looking "upset" and "crazy."

'Kill me'

Moi, who survived a series of refugee camps in Sudan before coming to America, where he was diagnosed as schizophrenic, could have been both.

Some of his first words to Palmer when the officer stepped out his car were simple, clear and prophetic.

"Kill me. That's all I'll say," Moi told Palmer, according to a transcript of the interaction.

"I'm not going to kill you," Palmer replied.

The two men argued back and forth for a couple of minutes, with Palmer attempting to draw Moi away from the oncoming traffic, trying to figure out why the pedestrian was so disturbed.

Palmer offered to give Moi a ride and repeatedly told him that he wouldn't use the Taser he had in his hand. Moi then rushed Palmer.

First came the Taser, which didn't deploy properly and hardly stopped Moi. In response, Moi began throwing rocks at Palmer, a former professional baseball player.

As Palmer dodged the rocks and moved forward, away from the cover his patrol car offered, he fired at Moi three times.

One shot missed; another went clean through Moi's arm. The third shot hit Moi in the back of his head as he ran from Palmer.

Jury awards family

Joel Robbins, an attorney for Moi's family, said the family wanted a jury to hear the facts and decide if Palmer's actions were justified.

"We had a fair trial in front of a jury of eight people that gave it a lot of thought," Robbins said. "They made an award of $50,000 for each of the parents; that replaces some lost income that Joseph brought into the house. It gave the family some closure on the events."

The money will go to Moi's parents, who have left refugee camps and returned to their homes in Sudan; and to his uncle, Caesar Otioti, whom Moi lived with in Phoenix.

The jury found that DPS adequately trained its officers to cope with the mentally ill and that Palmer's use of the Taser was reasonable.

Taser use at issue

DPS officials say that if Palmer's Taser had properly deployed - some of the prongs didn't stick in Moi, negating the electric shock- the shooting would have been avoided.

"Had he gotten the two prongs on that first shot, this would have been resolved in Mr. Moi being taken into custody and hopefully into treatment and getting him help that obviously he needed," Vanderpool said.

"I wish we could turn the clock back. I'm sure Officer Palmer does."

The transcript indicates Palmer, who continues his work as a patrol officer, was upset after the shooting, cursing repeatedly as he walked around the scene and other officers arrived.

Just before 5:30, less than 15 minutes after the officer first encountered Moi, Palmer had a final entry in the transcript.

"Oh well, (expletive). He wanted to die today, so, (expletive)."