DOVER, Del. — An attorney for the Delaware State Police asked a judge Friday to dismiss several claims in a lawsuit filed by the brother of a mentally ill woman whom an officer killed after firing a shotgun at him.

The lawsuit alleges that Trooper Dean Johnson, who fatally shot Kelly Rooks, 51, used excessive force, and that two other troopers on the scene failed to intervene to prevent Johnson from shooting Rooks.

The lawsuit also seeks to hold the police agency and its executive staff liable for the officers' actions, including alleged violations of Rooks’ rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the federal Rehabilitation Act. The complaint also accuses the police agency of failing to properly train officers on how to deal with emotionally disturbed people.

Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Picollelli Jr. argued that police did not intentionally discriminate against Rooks and that the lawsuit does not allege any pattern or practice of troopers mistreating people with disabilities. He also disputed the suggestion that Johnson was the “proximate cause” of Rooks’ death.

“She broke the causal chain when she picked up the shotgun,” he said.

Picollelli also said the police agency and its senior staff cannot be held vicariously liable for the officers' actions. Even if the claims in the lawsuit are adequately pleaded, police are entitled to qualified immunity from liability for actions taken in their official capacities, he added.

Patrick Gallagher, an attorney for Raymond Rooks, told Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Clark that it was too early for him to rule on the motion to dismiss the case and the state’s immunity claims.

“Reasonable or excessive (force) is a fact-intensive inquiry normally left for a jury,” he said, adding that merely talking to a person constitutes the use of force by a police officer.

“Talking is the first form of force…. Police presence is a form of force,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher said troopers knew Rooks was mentally unstable, given several interactions with her in the days leading up to the shooting. Instead of trying to de-escalate the situation, the troopers were “angry, hostile and aggressive” when they arrived.

“It was never a call for police. It was a call for medical help,” he said.

According to the lawsuit, Rooks suffered from bipolar disorder, and an increase in her lithium dosage was making her “more depressed, more anxious, and more paranoid" in the days before the shooting.

A report by the state attorney general’s office concluded that Johnson was justified in using deadly force against Rook. The report concluded that Johnson reasonably felt in fear for his life and the lives of others when he shot her.

Troopers and medical personnel went to Rooks’ house in Seaford on March 25, 2021, after she called 911 to complain her neighbors had poisoned her. Medical workers asked Rooks to come with them to the hospital so she could be examined more thoroughly, but she refused and became upset about their presence and that of state troopers.

After Rooks went to a bedroom, her boyfriend, who was in a wheelchair, emerged from the room and told police she was “crazy” and needed to go to the hospital. Rooks then grabbed a shotgun, prompting her boyfriend to return to the bedroom and shut the door. He then came out and told troopers he had unloaded the gun, and that they needed to leave.

Troopers ordered Rooks repeatedly to drop her gun and come out of the room with her hands up, investigators said.

“Which one of you pigs wants to die tonight?” Rooks responded before opening the door and firing at Johnson. The round of buckshot blew a hole in the floor.

Johnson returned fired and Rooks fell backward onto the bed. She then started advancing toward Johnson again, still holding her gun. Johnson fired again and Rooks fell backward as the door closed behind her. An autopsy found five bullets had hit her.

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