WESTMINSTER, Colo. — The mother of a 27-year old Nepalese man, who was apparently in the midst of a mental breakdown when he confronted a Westminster police officer and was fatally shot last August, has filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Westminster and Officer Steven Bare.
The lawsuit describes how Birendra Thakuri, who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, became increasingly erratic on Aug. 24 and 25 in 2018.
He told his brother that members of the community wanted to kill him, and claimed that he had been poisoned.
While he and his brother were out for a walk on the Aug. 25, Thakuri began darting out into traffic. His brother, Surendra Thakuri, grabbed him and tried to pull him back onto the grass.
A witness saw the scuffle and called 911.
Westminster police officer Steven Bare responded, saw the two brothers kneeling on the grass at Federal Boulevard and Ranch Reserve Parkway, activated his overhead lights, got out and shined his flashlight on the two men.
Birendra began flailing his arms and slapping his head.
He stood up, began screaming and walked toward the officer.
Officer Bare yelled, "Stop."
The 27-year old complied, turned around and began walking back toward his brother.
A short while later, Birendra began walking toward the officer again.
This time, Bare swung his flash light and then pushed the young man away.
Bare told investigators that Birendra began talking to his brother in a foreign language and then charged at him. That's when he pulled out his weapon and fired, striking and killing the young man.
Neither brother was armed.
"It's clear that Officer Bare did not know how to appropriately handle someone who is in the throes of a mental health crisis," said Gail Johnson, the Thakuri family's attorney.
Johnson said Bare should never have put himself in a situation where he feared for his life.
"He should have waited for backup," she said. "He knew he was responding to a fight involving two or three people."
Johnson also said Bare should have used the less lethal tools at his disposal, like pepper spray or even a taser.
"This case is about excessive force by a police officer, but it is also about how law enforcement handles individuals who are experiencing mental health problems," she said.
Bare told investigators he thought both brothers were going to attack him and try to take his weapons.
The 17th Judicial District Attorney Dave Young did not file criminal charges against the officer.
In his report, Young stated that "Thakuri's actions dictated the officer's response."
"We were very disappointed that the district attorney decided not to file criminal charges," Johnson said. "But, that is why we also have a civil justice system to handle things civilly. That is why we filed the Federal Civil Rights lawsuit, which has different rules and different standards."
Johnson told Denver7 the federal lawsuit is intended to hold the City of Westminster and Bare accountable for the death of a young man who was not armed.
"Our police officers must be trained how to interact with people experiencing or exhibiting the symptoms of mental illness," she said. "They must be trained to respond with compassion, understanding and patience, rather than the barrel of a gun... Just because Birendra was suffering from mental anguish that night, doesn't mean he should have had to die."
In a news release announcing both the lawsuit and a candle light vigil in memory of Birendra Thakuri, Johnson noted that the shooting wasn't recorded on video tape.
She said, "for some reason, Westminster doesn't use body cams or dash cams."
Police Department Response
On Monday, the Westminster Police Department emailed a reply to a request for comment, stating: "The Westminster Police Department takes all officer involved shootings extremely seriously as we value all life. Our officers are trained on how to respond appropriately when dealing with individuals in crisis. We are committed to protecting our community as well as our officers."
The email went on to say, "We look forward to responding in the future, as we cannot comment further due to pending litigation."