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Pennsylvania State Trooper on Trial in Wrongful Death Case
Pennsylvania State Trooper, Samuel Nassan, took the stand on Tuesday to explain his actions in the Christmas Eve 2002 shooting death of a 12-year-old boy named Michael Ellerbe. Nassan claims that he shot Ellerbe, in the back while he was running away from an SUV he had stolen, because Nassan's then-partner, Juan Curry, had just fallen over a fence and accidentally discharged his weapon. Nassan believed Curry had just been shot and responded in kind.
Murder or Accident?
Days after Ellerbe's death, his family called it "murder." Civil rights attorneys for the family agreed, and the NAACP demanded that at least three members of the African-American community be part of the investigation. State police expressed sorrow and remorse, but refused to discuss details of the incident or the investigation. It is known that one shot through the back and into the heart killed Ellerbe; however, an additional wound to his arm seems to show that Ellerbe was grazed by a bullet from a different direction. It isn't known who fired the shot or exactly how he received it. Even the coroners disagree on the particulars of how Ellerbe was killed. Ellerbe's family and attorneys claimed there was a cover-up, especially after the state troopers were absolved of wrongdoing by a jury in January, 2003.
Family Sues for Wrongful Death
Claiming the state police involved never told Ellerbe to stop before firing, and claiming there was a conspiracy, the family sued seeking more than $75,000 for wrongful death. The suit claims that Ellerbe suffered fear and pain prior to his death.
Senior deputy attorney general, Kemal Alexander Mericli, arguing on behalf of the state, claimed in March 2004 that state police "enjoy sovereign immunity from tort lawsuits." He argued the two troopers involved shouldn't have to face civil rights charges in Ellerbe's death. U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti disagreed and allowed the suit to move forward. It is still being argued today.
For a little over five years Michael Ellerbe's family has been struggling with the boy's death. They know who killed him and how he died, but they've been living in limbo with regard to who will ultimately take responsibility. Both Samuel Nassan and Juan Curry have expressed remorse, as have the state police of Pennsylvania, but this has done little to assuage the family, and the community's, anger.
Yes, Michael Ellerbe, a 12-year-old, was behind the wheel of a stolen SUV, and yes, he ran from the police. But things get murky after that. All we have to go on is what the two troopers there have said, and a boy who was ten at the time, who says he saw the whole thing from his upstairs window. Clear answers may never be given. What is clear is that Michael Ellerbe's family, as well as Samuel Nassan and Juan Curry will continue to live with the consequences of that day.
If you live in Pennsylvania, and you believe a loved one has suffered a wrongful death at the hands of the police, please contact an experienced injury lawyer.
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