The histories of a woman—fatally shot in stolen car after running red lights—and the police detective who killed her are being examined in the wake of the Thursday afternoon confrontation. While Shantel Davis, 23, was out on bail for attempted murder (she was due in court on Friday) when her erratic driving caught police attention, it turns out that Detective Phil Atkins has been/is involved in a number of lawsuits accusing him of unreasonable force among other claims. One lawsuit, for assault and battery and false arrest, was settled for $50,000.
Vincent Burgess told the NY Times that Atkins is "a bully"—he sued the NYPD and city when Atkins, he claims, "struck him twice with a hand-held radio during an altercation" in 2003. Burgess accused Atkins and another police officer of assault and battery and false arrest and won the $50,000 settlement. The Times says of other accusations, "Some of the lawsuits are pending. In at least three cases, including Mr. Burgess’s, settlements of at least $15,000 each were reached, records show."
Police say that Davis was speeding and crashing into vehicles when Atkins and Daniel Guida, plainclothes cops, started to purse her. At Church Avenue and East 38th Street, Davis, in a stolen Toyota Camry, finally crashed into a minivan. The NYPD says that both cops got out of their car to approach the Camry:
They observed the driver, 23 year-old Shantel Davis, move to the unoccupied passenger side, where the front seat had been removed, and open the door. The officer who approached on the passenger side attempted to enter the vehicle and to stop Davis from fleeing. He identified himself as a police officer and yelled, 'Police don’t move.'
Davis then moved back to the driver’s side where the detective had opened the door and reached into the car in an unsuccessful attempt to shut off the ignition. The driver’s seat was not bolted to the frame and was held in place only by its own weight. The detective struggled with Davis over control of the steering wheel and gear shift. During the struggle, Davis shifted the car into reverse and stepped on the gas, causing the car to lurch back three to four feet. This caused the officer on the passenger side to be struck by the door. Davis then stepped on the gas a second time, causing the car to move backwards an additional 14 feet, knocking the officer on the passenger side back into the street.
At the same time, a round from the detective's gun was discharged, striking Davis in the chest.
Davis was pronounced dead at Kings County Hospital. Witnesses described a chaotic scene during the shooting, and some felt he cops were acting too aggressively. A few onlookers called the police "murderers." The NYPD, though, has pointed out that the Camry's owner, a 58-year-old woman, positively identified Davis as the person who carjacked her at gunpoint on June 5.
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne also said of accusations that Atkins was too aggressive, "This is a litigious town and active officers have lawsuits and complaints." And Detectives Endowment Association president Michael Palladino said, "It is unfair to measure a narcotics detective’s performance by lawsuits that are filed... Drug dealers are interested in making money either by selling drugs or filing lawsuits."