Kristina Myers is the widow of Steven Myers, who was killed on Oct. 6, 2017, in Sun City, Kansas, during an encounter with Barber County sheriff deputies. Roxana Hegeman File/AP
Kristina Myers is the widow of Steven Myers, who was killed on Oct. 6, 2017, in Sun City, Kansas, during an encounter with Barber County sheriff deputies. Roxana Hegeman File/AP

Crime & Courts

Widow suing – claiming officer’s fatal beanbag shooting was reckless, unjustifiable

November 30, 2017 05:32 PM

UPDATED December 01, 2017 09:31 AM

The wife of a Barber County man killed by a beanbag shotgun round – when he was reportedly unarmed and following a command to come out of a shed – is suing the sheriff and the undersheriff who pulled the trigger.

The lawsuit by Kristina Myers, filed Thursday in federal court, alleges that the Oct. 6 killing of Steven Myers in Sun City was “unjustifiable,” “wrongful” and “reckless.” The shooting violated the law on deadly force, and therefore the defendants aren’t entitled to immunity, the lawsuit complaint says.

The court document names as defendants Undersheriff Virgil Brewer – who fired the beanbag round from a 12-gauge shotgun – and Sheriff Lonnie Small. Their attorneys couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.

At 6:26 p.m. Oct. 6, the Sheriff’s Office received a call that Myers was in the street in front of Buster’s bar with a shotgun. The 42-year-old had been a ranch and oilfield worker.

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The sheriff, undersheriff and two deputies arrived about 41 minutes after the call. Sun City is a town of about 50 residents in the northwest corner of the rural county; it’s a two-hour drive from Wichita.

By the time the sheriff’s officers arrived, Myers had gone home, stowed away his shotgun and taken his dog for a walk, the lawsuit account says.

The disturbance reported in front of the bar “had long since resolved by the time officers arrived,” it says.

Family of man killed by Barber County deputy seeks answers

Kristina Myers, widow of Steven Myers, who was shot by a Barber County undersheriff, and her attorney Michael Kuckelman, are fighting to obtain all body- and dash cam videos of the shooting. The hearing is now set for Dec. 1, 2017. (Video by Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle

fsalazar@wichitaeagle.com

‘Pass out and die’

Sheriff Small led the officers and his K-9 dog on a house-to-house search for Myers, the complaint says.

Less than five minutes before Undersheriff Brewer shot Myers, Sheriff Small’s body camera recorded Small telling Brewer: “A little luck and he’ll just pass out and die,” the complaint says.

From inside a resident’s home, Small saw Myers in a shed about 15 feet from the back door.

Small shouted from inside for Myers to come out, and then the sheriff immediately turned around and headed for the front door of the home with his police dog, away from Myers, the lawsuit complaint says.

The sheriff could have used his K-9, if needed, rather than directing deployment of a shotgun, it says.

As Small turned away, he motioned for Brewer “to move to the back door and confront Steven Myers,” it says. Brewer then stepped through the doorway.

“Within a few seconds of Sheriff Small’s command to come out of the shed, Steven Myers was standing – unarmed – outside the shed in the middle of the backyard.”

Brewer and a deputy yelled at Myers “simultaneously, with one voice saying ‘Put your hands up!’ and the other shouting ‘Get on the ground!’,” the lawsuit complaint says.

Myers “stood in the yard, with empty hands at his sides,” it says.

He didn’t threaten the officers, didn’t show a weapon and didn’t try to escape, it says. “At no time during his encounter … was Steven Myers armed with any weapon.”

Seconds of shouting

And “after a mere eight seconds of shouting inconsistent commands,” it says, Brewer fired his 12-gauge shotgun at Myers’ chest from about 6 to 8 feet away.

The lawsuit notes that a beanbag – a small bag filled with lead pellets – is meant to be a less-lethal weapon when used appropriately.

It appears that the Barber County Sheriff’s Office had no policies and no training for appropriate use of beanbag rounds, the lawsuit complaint says. A lack of training and supervision of Brewer led to Myers’ death, it says.

Right after the shooting, Small is recorded saying to another officer, “Shot him with a beanbag round. Hadn’t shot anybody with it yet,” the complaint says. Small then turned off his body camera.

A beanbag round shot from less than 10 feet at a person’s chest or other vital spots poses a “well-known risk of death,” it says.

Myers screamed “Ow!” and fell face down. Brewer handcuffed Myers and turned him over, with his hands behind him.

When the two deputies began first-aid efforts, it was about five and half minutes after the shot was fired and after Myers’ blood pooled on the ground, the complaint says.

Brewer had fired as Small left the front door on the opposite side of the house. Small, “unfazed, told the homeowner who as standing on the front porch, ‘Beanbag rounded him,’” the complaint says.

The resident walked to the back door, saw Myers on the ground, and said “that was little drastic wasn’t it?”

Brewer “commanded him to leave his own property,” it says.

Coroner’s exclamations

Small and Brewer went to the street, leaving two inexperienced deputies to try to revive Myers, it says.

The EMS crew arrived about 22 minutes after the shooting “because Defendants failed to call and stage EMS in a closer location as they were asked to do,” it says.

When the coroner arrived and saw the wound, according to the complaint, he said: “That’s from a beanbag? Holy (expletive)! I thought they weren’t supposed to penetrate. Must’ve been pretty damn close, like six to eight feet maybe?”

As a deputy started to answer, it says, “Sheriff Small interrupted and said ‘Don’t tell him everything.’”

Small later told the deputy to disable his body camera even though the deputy stayed on scene for several more hours, it says.

Myers is survived by his wife and their three children. The couple had been married almost 10 years.

The lawsuit seeks damages and costs to be determined by the court and at a jury trial to be held in Kansas City.