Gardner, Kansas — In March of last year, three police officers crept into Deanne Choate’s home — and then her bedroom — where she was sleeping unclothed. After they demanded to know where her gun was, she tried to follow orders but was shot dead in her own bed. Her daughter is now suing the city of Gardner, Kansas.
It all began with a 911 call on the evening of March 26, 2015. Andrew Musto, Choate’s boyfriend, told them the 53-year-old woman was suicidal, had a gun, and had been drinking, according to the civil lawsuit.
Musto and Choate had been drinking together at a local bar, where they got into a heated argument. Upon returning home, they continued to fight, and eventually Musto made the call to police. Neighbors told The Daily Beast they heard gunshots shortly before police quietly arrived with their sirens and lights turned off.
The three responding officers, Jeff Breneman, Robert Huff, and Justin Mohney, arrested Musto before continuing on to Choate’s room, where they repeatedly demanded she show them the gun. After several minutes, she was finally given a hooded sweatshirt to wear, and at that point, she produced the .22 Derringer.
None of the responding officers lost their jobs or faced criminal charges or censure for what happened next. But Choate’s daughter, Michele Choate, is suing them as part of the lawsuit filed against the city of Gardner, according to Courthouse News.
“They say she was pointing a pistol at them,” Choate’s 37-year-old son, Michael Weddington, toldThe Daily Beast. “Why did they have to get all commando style?”
According to Choate’s children, who have seen the police body camera video, their mother said, “Could I have something to put on? I’m naked. I didn’t call you here. What do you want?”
“Where’s the gun?” an officer asked multiple times, according to Weddington. The lawsuit also quotes the officer as saying, “We know you have a gun.”
“They tell her ‘Ma’am, you need to get out of bed so we can clear this room,’” Weddington explained to The Daily Beast. “She says, ‘I’m 53 years old I don’t just bounce out of bed.’”
The last words Choate is remembered saying are, “Oh, here it is.”
“She goes to lift her blanket and get up and the cop says ‘Drop the gun. Drop the fucking gun… Boom-boom-boom-boom,” Weddington said.
Three shots — two in the head and one in the midsection — killed Choate, Weddington said after reviewing the autopsy summary.
“Shut off your cameras,” Weddington says he heard the police officers say in the body cam footage after the shooting. According to the civil lawsuit, “One officer commented after the shooting and killing Deanne ‘I knew she had a gun the whole time.’”
Gary Smethers, one of Choate’s neighbors, told The Daily Beast he saw that the officers “had taken her from the bedroom and laid her by the front door after she was shot.”
“They moved her in there and they covered her with a red blanket and then the ambulance showed up,” Smethers recounted.
While it is conceivable that moving the woman closer to where paramedics would be might be helpful, the fact that she was covered up and presumed dead by police resembles evidence tampering, though no consequences have come of it.
“They didn’t even do any lifesaving techniques,” Weddington said. “They grab her two arms and two legs and dragged her out into the hallway and then lay her there and leave her there until the paramedics get there.”
“They take her pulse for a total of two seconds and then they turn around and ask ‘Is everybody else alright?’”
The civil lawsuit charges that the Gardner Police Department was “consistently and systemically working to hide and protect from public disclosure the identity and role officers involved in such conduct” and that the city offered a settlement of “not more than $200,000” under the condition the body camera video footage be kept hidden from public view.
“There was nothing right about any of it,” Weddington said.
“They wanted us to sign off on the video so they had control and never had to release it, and so the public would never know how much they messed up,” Weddington added. “They make their own laws.”
“They could have called me and said ‘Your mom is apparently suicidal and we can’t get in contact with her; she’s not coming out of her room… I was no more than a 10-minute drive away,” a distraught Weddington told The Daily Beast.
Weddington now has a tattoo of a cherub covering up tears on his forearm — alongside the word, “Mother.”
“We need to get some reform in that police department so this doesn’t happen again,” he said.