A federal wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against the city of Boynton Beach, Florida, and a former police officer over the death of a young teen in 2021. The claim alleges the young boy died after his civil rights were violated by an officer with a history of harassing members of the African-American community in his service area.
On Tuesday, Nov. 15, Shannon Thompson and Stanley Davis Jr., the parents of Stanley Davis III, filed a civil lawsuit against the Palm Beach County municipality and Mark Sohn, an ex-cop they claim recklessly chased and harassed their 13-year-old son on his dirt bike without cause, violating his Fourth and 14th Amendment rights, resulting in his death, according to lawsuit documents obtained by Atlanta Black Star.
The parents are asking a federal court to award them at least $75,000 for each of the three counts, as well as punitive damages.
The complaint states Sohn had previously “caused the deaths of three African American citizens of the City of Boynton Beach by conducting unlawful high-speed police chases,” highlighting the fact the officer had been “sued several times in the past for using excessive force against African Americans,” and had been “disciplined” by his superiors “at work for using racist language.”
The lawyers representing the parents, Jasmine Rand and civil rights attorney Ben Crump, also claim Sohn had a “long documented history of misconduct” on the job.
Stanley Davis III was an exceptional young man, the claim shares as it details his career highlights from preschool to middle school, including becoming MVP in athletics and being chosen homecoming king twice, and how his star was turned off the day after Christmas.
“On December 26, 2021, the day after Christmas, Stanley was riding his bike and went to the gas station down the street from his house to fill up his gas tank,” the claim reads. “As Stanley began to drive home Defendant Mark Sohn conducted an unlawful high-speed pursuit of Stanley which caused him to crash and subsequently die.”
Sohn saw the young man leave the Chevron station on Federal Highway and Boynton Beach Boulevard.
The officer’s SUV started following him to perform a traffic stop. The boy rides off in one direction out of the frame of the camera, then reappears a second later after apparently making a U-turn, when he rides past the gas station and makes a left turn onto a cross street, and disappears from view with the police vehicle following him with its lights on.
Surveillance footage from the gas station showed Davis getting back on that dirt bike — a Christmas present given to him the previous day — moments before Sohn comes into view at the station with his police lights on. The crash on the highway and his body being tossed into a nearby sign also were captured on camera.
The lawyers highlight that while Sohn was wearing a bodycam, his footage has yet to be released. It also noted his patrol SUV was camera-less, rendering the gas station’s footage the only testimony of what happened that day.
The family’s attorneys claim Sohn’s own account says he could not determine if the teen’s dirt bike was street-legal or if it was registered street worthy, and so there was “no probable cause” to chase.
The lawsuit also alleges after the child crashed, the officer did not render medical attention or even check his pulse to see if he was alive, violating his department’s protocol. An internal review by the Boynton Beach Police Department noted violated department policy by immediately turning on his siren and by speeding upward between 79 and 85 miles per hour in a 35 mph zone, and not calling out to the Davis to get him to stop.
“The BPD investigation report concluded: Officer Sohn’s actions were not permissible and reasonable” and demonstrated “conduct unbecoming of an officer.”
The Florida Highway Patrol also conducted an investigation to denote if a traffic homicide had been committed. Because it was determined there was no contact between the boy and the officer’s vehicles, they ruled Sohn was not at fault.
The FHP investigation reports were released on March 31.
In its closing status, the FHP said, “This investigation is complete, and no charges shall be filed, because the at-fault person expired as a result of the crash,” CBS 12 News reports.
However, pressure from the community called not only for Sohn to be released from his duties as an officer, but also to be arrested. In August, the officer was fired for violating the department’s policy on Vehicular Pursuits and Apprehensions, Conduct Unbecoming, Unsatisfactory Performance, and Law Enforcement Officer’s Code of Ethics. Still, the department did not say he was criminally liable for anything.
The city has not responded to the lawsuit.