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GARY — The mother of Ke-Monte Cobbs — a teenage robbery suspect killed by a Gary police officer more than two years ago — is suing city officials and the officer who shot her son, claiming excessive force.

Tasheena Brooks filed the wrongful death lawsuit in U.S. District Court, claiming Gary police Officer Justin Hedrick fired a fatal shot into the top of her 15-year-old son’s head as he lay on the ground the night of Aug. 1, 2017.

“Lake County Coroner reported that Cobbs’ cause of death was a single gunshot wound to the top of the head,” the suit claims.

Contrary to the suit, detectives have said publicly the boy fled from a vehicle linked to an earlier violent armed robbery in Munster and pointed a weapon at officers, prompting the fatal gunfire by police.

Ke-Monte Cobbs was one of five people stopped along Hanley Street near 19th Place by Gary police that night on suspicion they were involved an earlier holdup at a Verizon store in Munster, records show.

The lawsuit claims Hedrick and his K-9 partner chased Cobbs on foot and followed him behind a residential building on the west side of 5055 W. 19th Place in Gary.

“At that time, Gary police reported three shots were fired, but no reference by whom. A witness from a residential building looked out of her window and observed Cobbs laying down with his hands up. There were also security cameras on or near said residential building,” the suit claims.

“It was at this time that Hedrick, without warning, shot Cobbs once in the top of his head,” the suit continues.

A weapon was found with Cobbs, police have said. 

Not long after the traffic stop, the Lake County Sheriff’s Department took over the investigation into Cobbs’ death, per protocol. The FBI took over a parallel investigation into the other suspects for their ties to the string of violent cellphone store robberies in the Region.

Since that time, at least three of the suspects have been sentenced for the robberies. An unnamed juvenile also was charged in the case.

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Markquise Harris, 19, of East Chicago, was sentenced this summer to five years in prison; Vondell Henry Jr., 22, of Gary, was sentenced to eight years and nine months; and Deshalone Davis, 22, of Gary, was sentenced to 11 years. 

The suit lists Hedrick, the city, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, the Gary Police Department and Police Chief Richard Allen as defendants.

The complaint claims Hedrick’s actions were a product of the Gary Police Department’s failure to adequately train and supervise its officers and the department’s “failure to adequately investigate, punish and discipline prior instances of similar conduct.”

Brooks alleges Gary officers frequently use excessive force on citizens, yet the departments finds wronging in a small number of cases, records show.

“Defendant City of Gary, under the leadership of Karen Freeman-Wilson, does not properly investigate police use of excessive force and discipline officers for use of excessive force,” the complaint states.

The suit further alleges city policymakers are aware of and condone the Gary Police Department's "code of silence" in which officers fail to report misconduct committed by their colleagues. 

Brooks is seeking compensatory damages, payment of reasonable attorneys' fees and costs, and punitive damages.

The court recently ordered all parties and attorneys must take steps to preserve electronically stored information relevant to claims made whether or not the information is admissible at trial. 

The complaint was filed July 31. Defendants’ responses are due Oct. 22 and a preliminary pretrial conference hearing is set for 11:30 a.m. Nov. 14.

Michael Tolbert, attorney for the defendants, declined to comment. 

Richard P. Busse, attorney for Brooks, could also not be reached for comment Friday.

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Northlake County Reporter

Lauren covers North Lake County government, breaking news, crime and environmental issues for The Times. She previously worked at The Herald-News in Joliet. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting.