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Lawsuit Filed On Behalf Of Mentally Distressed Olathe Woman Shot And Killed By Police

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A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed on behalf of an Olathe, Kansas, woman who was shot and killed by police in her boyfriend's home last August.

Armed with a handgun and threatening suicide, 26-year-old Ciara Howard had barricaded herself in a laundry room when police arrived to serve an arrest warrant for non-violent, minor charges — she had walked away from a residential center where she was to report as a condition of probation.

Johnson County sheriff's deputies joined Olathe police officers, and soon there were more than a dozen officers at the house, which belonged to her boyfriend Larry Sumner, who also stood outside of the house that day.

What followed was a three-hour standoff over a minor arrest warrant. When officers did barge in, they shot and killed Howard within 13 seconds of making contact with her.

Howard suffered from severe depression, bipolar disorder and addiction, and was well-known by police for these conditions, previous suicide threats and minor non-violent offenses. 

The lawsuit says the officers and deputies on scene were aware of all of these things, yet they proceeded to enter the home anyway. Pointing to police body camera footage, the lawsuit says they also failed to utilize a mental health expert or trained negotiator, and otherwise made several missteps throughout the standoff; therefore, it says, they "recklessly and intentionally instigated events leading to the use of excessive force and Ms. Howard's death."

Due to pending litigation, a spokesman for the Olathe Police Department told KCUR they cannot comment on the case.

The Johnson County Sheriff's Department did not immediately respond to KCUR's request for comment.

The defendants include 10 individual officers and deputies, Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden, Police Chief Steve Menke, Johnson County and the city of Olathe, Kansas.

Lawyers are seeking $4 million in damages.

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter at KCUR 89.3. Email her at andreat@kcur.org, and follow her on Twitter @andreatudhope.

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