The family of a man who was killed by police last year in Tacony has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city and the officer who shot him.
Jeffrey Dennis, 36, was shot three times by Officer Richard Nicoletti on Aug. 20, 2018, near the corner of Hegerman Street and Princeton Avenue. Narcotics officers were in the area with a warrant to search Dennis’ home, nearby on the 7100 block of Cottage Street.
The shooting followed an attempt by undercover officers in unmarked cars to “box in” Dennis’ car. Three officers were injured as Dennis tried to maneuver out of the situation.
State Attorney General Josh Shapiro decided in December not to file criminal charges against Nicoletti, a 29-year veteran of the force, after a four-month investigation.
“We still disagree with the decision, and I believe that we’re not the only ones that disagree with the decision,” Daniel Purtell, an attorney for the Dennis family, told the Northeast Times.
The civil suit, which was filed in court Wednesday, Feb. 27, alleges that Nicoletti acted in a “wrongful, malicious and reckless” manner and claims officers involved in the operation violated several Philadelphia Police Department policies.
City spokesman Mike Dunn said the city is still reviewing the complaint and did not comment.
A spokesperson for the police department declined to comment on the case. It’s unclear whether Nicoletti has faced any internal disciplinary action in connection with the shooting.
Video of the incident released by the state Attorney General’s Office shows Dennis’ car being barricaded by two unmarked police vehicles on Hegerman, which is a one-way street.
Dennis’ car and the police car in front of him collide. Then, multiple plainclothes officers jump out and point their guns at him. One officer uses a tool to smash the driver’s side window of Dennis’ car before another officer appears to stick his hand inside the vehicle.
Not long after, Nicoletti can be seen firing into Dennis’ car from close range. Dennis was shot three times in the head and chest, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit claims a witness said the officers did not identify themselves as police.
In the complaint, attorneys for the Dennis family say Nicoletti and the other officers involved violated police department directives regarding vehicular pursuits and use of force. They also criticized the department’s training and accountability methods.
“There was nothing to indicate that the use of excessive and/or deadly force was justified,” the complaint said.
Shapiro, in his statement from December, said Nicoletti’s actions did not break state law.
“Violations of police procedure do not always rise to the level of criminal charges,” the attorney general said. “Whether Philadelphia Police Department procedure was followed during this incident was not in the scope of our investigation, and will be addressed by Commissioner Ross and the Department.”
Dennis, at the time of his death, was employed by Tastykake and lived with his daughter, according to the complaint. He also had two other children and was involved in the community as a football coach, the lawsuit said.
“This family has done an amazing job of fighting for his honor and remembering him,” Purtell said. “They are great people, and they are all tragically affected in their own ways throughout this process.”
The civil case is aimed at recovering damages for the three women identified as parents of Dennis’ three children. ••
Jack Tomczuk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org