Nassau police used excessive force last year when they killed a suspected burglar and falsely imprisoned the man's parents for three hours after a standoff at their home in Point Lookout, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the family.
The officers involved in the incident that led to the shooting of Kurt Doerbecker during the predawn hours of Aug. 30, 2011, were inadequately trained and were under stress from working extended shifts in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene two days earlier, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, said police overreacted by deploying an armored vehicle, a police boat, a canine unit and 60 to 100 officers, some of them wearing night-vision goggles and some using high-intensity lights. That "grossly disproportionate response proximately caused the tragedy at the core of this lawsuit," the court papers said.
The lawsuit was filed by Albert and Marie Doerbecker on their own behalf and on behalf of their son, who was 23 when he was shot in the back of the head and killed by a police officer who has not been publicly identified. The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages and attorney fees.
The Nassau district attorney's office said Monday its investigation was almost completed and would release the results soon. Police referred questions to the county attorney's office, which declined to comment.
The chain of events began about 9 p.m. Aug. 29 when Nick Castellano, an acquaintance of Kurt Doerbecker, appeared outside the family's home and challenged him to come outside and fight because of an apparent dispute over a woman, the lawsuit said. The two men left after Albert Doerbecker came outside and told them to go away, the lawsuit says.
Doerbecker then went to a nearby bar, where he was told to leave after he punched Castellano, the lawsuit says. Around 11:30 p.m. he went to the home of a friend to buy marijuana, the lawsuit says. The friend's mother was not aware her son had expected Doerbecker to drop off the money, so she screamed and called police, "thinking, incorrectly, that the person was a burglar," the lawsuit said.
The description of the suspected burglar's clothing matched that of the person involved in the bar dispute, and police went to the Doerbecker home at 12:30 a.m., the lawsuit says.
The family would not let them enter without a search warrant, and Doerbecker -- "undoubtedly afraid that the police might invade his home and harm his family" -- climbed out a rear window about 1:30 a.m., the lawsuit says.
Outside the house, police said at the time, he charged at officers with a foot-long knife drawn. The lawsuit says his "small pocket knife . . . [was] in his shorts, beneath his jeans," and he was running away when an officer fired three shots, hitting him once in the back of the head.
At about 2:20 a.m. officers put both parents in handcuffs and held them in separate police cars until they were told about 5:30 a.m. that their son was dead, the lawsuit says.