Popper & Yatvin Settles Suit Over Philadelphia Police Shooting of Emotionally Disturbed Man

On the afternoon of March 13, 2011, Carmelo Winans, an emotionally troubled young man, sat on the floor in an isolated corner of the kitchen of the house he shared with his father and grandparents.  Paranoid and confused, he held a small steak knife to his neck as he spoke about god.  He was not threatening anyone and he was not engaging in any aggressive actions.   His father, Carmelo Santiago, fearing his son might harm himself, phoned the police to come help his child.  Two Philadelphia Police officers came to the house and entered the kitchen.  The frightened father stood in the kitchen doorway, behind the police, watching first in relief, then in increasing horror, as the events unfolded.

As the officers spoke to Winans, he finally put the knife down on the floor.   At that moment a specially trained Crisis Intervention officer, armed with a Taser, arrived on the scene.  As this trained back-up officer entered the kitchen, one of the officers already in the kitchen, threw himself on the seated young man, while holding his gun in his hand.  The gun went off.  Mistakenly believing he was shot, the officer called out to his partner, who then fired two fatal shots at Winans.

Because of our experience with about a dozen police shooting cases, including two prior fatal police shootings of emotionally disturbed persons, Popper & Yatvin was contacted by the family to bring suit.  The case was filed in two parts:  on behalf of the father in state court in Philadelphia, and on behalf of the estate and Mr. Winans’ young children in federal court.  After more than two years of litigation, the cases were settled for more than $400,000.

On January 10, 2014, Alan Yatvin was interviewed for a story which played on Philadelphia’s public radio station, WHYY-FM. Click here, then click on > icon below the headline to listen to the story.

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3 thoughts on “Popper & Yatvin Settles Suit Over Philadelphia Police Shooting of Emotionally Disturbed Man”

  1. Congrats! Great job as always. Why did you sue on behalf of the estate and the kids in federal court and father in state?

    1. The conventional wisdom is that Philadelphia juries, which tend to have greater racial and ethnic diversity, are more willing to be skeptical of police explanations for their conduct and more generous when they do find liability, than federal juries, which also draw from 8 suburban and rural counties in the eastern part of the state. Here, the father had a tort claim for infliction of emotional distress under Pennsylvania law, but no viable constitutional claim for the death of his adult son under governing Third Circuit precedent. See McCurdy v. Dodd. Because he was not in “privity” with the estate or the minor children, there were no collateral estoppel implications in filing separate suits. Although the civil rights claims of the estate and minor children also could have been brought in state court under Section 1983’s coordinate jurisdiction provision, we knew from long experience that the City will always remove such civil rights cases to federal court.

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