Vigil for Rashad Cunningham

Pierre Williams, of Chicago, lights a candle at a vigil for Rashad Cunningham who was killed by a Gary police officer. 

GARY — The family and a friend of a 25-year-old Gary man killed in an Aug. 17 police shooting are suing the city of Gary.

Lawyers for the parents and children of Rashad Cunningham filed a civil rights suit this week in U.S. District Court in Hammond.

They and David Nusz, identified in court papers as a witness to the killing and as well as a victim of excessive police force, are seeking damages against the city. The family is scheduled to hold a news conference at noon Tuesday at Gary City Hall.

Nusz is identified as a pro se plaintiff against Gary.

The suit also identifies Isiah Price III as the Gary officer who fatally shot Cunningham and seeks damages against him and the city.

The litigation arises from a police call in the early morning hours of Aug. 17 of shots fired in the area of East 23rd Avenue and Kentucky Street, a residential part of Gary’s Midtown section.

Police have released few details of the encounter, since reporting that officers arriving at the scene found a parked vehicle with three occupants and an officer’s weapon discharged, fatally wounding Cunningham, as officers approached the vehicle to investigate.

Heather Fox, who dated Cunningham and has a child with him, told Times two days afterward that Cunningham was doing nothing wrong when police inexplicably shot him in a parked car after seeing him holding a gun that Cunningham was legally licensed to carry.

The suit alleges Cunningham "presented no immediate threat" to Price or anyone else and wasn’t committing a crime at the time of his killing.

The narrative in the lawsuit states that Cunningham was parked in a black Chevy Tahoe in front of his home at 23rd Avenue and Kentucky Street when Price and another unidentified officer approached the vehicle with their flashlights and weapons drawn. Cunningham, the suit says, was in the front passenger seat, and two other occupants were in the car.

The suit alleges that, “Without cause or provocation and within 10 seconds from exiting the car, Price fired at Rashad” and fatally wounded him.

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The suit alleges Cunningham was holding his wallet and driver’s license in his hands. The suit doesn’t state Cunningham was armed.

The lawsuit continues that after the shooting, the unidentified officer with Price ordered Nusz to the ground, stepped on Nusz’s head, put a gun to Nusz’s face, handcuffed him and threatened, “Shut the (expletive) up. I should have shot you in your (expletive) head too.”

The suit alleges police held Nusz in custody for 6 hours at the Gary police station, although Nusz hadn’t been committing a crime.

The family and social activists have publicly demanded answers from Gary city officials, as well as the release of any video recordings made of the encounter.

The Lake County Sheriff's Department was conducting an independent investigation into the circumstances of the police-involved shooting.

Sheriff Oscar Martinez said the results of his department’s investigation would be turned over the Lake County prosecutor’s office.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson has offered condolences to the Cunningham family and said the Gary Police Department does not use body or dashboard cameras, so there are no recordings to release.

The mayor added that when the answers are available, "The Gary Police Department will be open and transparent in communicating with the public." 

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Lake County Reporter

Bill has reported in Lake County since 1972 after graduating from Indiana University. He has worked for The Times since 1997, covering the courts and local government during much of his tenure. Born and raised in New Albany, Ind., he is a native Hoosier.