JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The family of a 22-year-old man shot and killed by a Jacksonville officer in May has filed a federal lawsuit against both the officer who pulled the trigger and Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams.
Vernell Bing Jr. was shot once in the side of the head by Officer Tyler Landreville after leading officers on a 3.7-mile, high-speed chase that ended when it appeared he intentionally drove into Landreville's cruiser on a Springfield street, according to police.
Bing's family has filed a lawsuit, claiming excessive use of force and violation of Bing's federal civil rights.
The attorneys for the family, who are from the Tampa area, said it is time for changes in policies and procedures at the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. They said they have been investigating the case for more than two months, and the sheriff's office has given them little information beyond saying the investigation is ongoing.
“We've done the best we can,” attorney Ron Kurpiers said. “We are tired of walls being put up, and now that we have filed this federal lawsuit, we are going to get answers.”
Kurpiers and fellow attorney John Lakin said they know it will be a lengthy process and could take years, but they hope the lawsuit helps uncover the truth.
“This is a community. It should not be held hostage to circumstances that are going on here,” Lakin said. “You can't shield behind the law all the time.”
They said they have talked to witnesses about what happened, and they feel based on those accounts that the shooting didn’t have to happen.
“Shooting Vernell Bing Jr. in the temple from close range is, in our view, the definition of excessive force,” Lakin Said. “There are many alternative ways to take him into custody that do not advocate using deadly force in our community.”
They also claimed the intersection where the shooting happened has surveillance cameras, but the sheriff's office has never shown or even acknowledged that surveillance video of the shooting exists.
They said the sheriff's office could rebuild trust by releasing the surveillance video.
“It's no surprise that during our investigation over the last couple of months, we have gotten no cooperation -- at all,” Kurpiers said. “The response we get, up to and including seeking the autopsy report, is, 'Sorry, we can't give it to you. It's under investigation.'”
JSO Chief Chris Butler said Bing was in a red Chevrolet Camaro wanted in connection with an April shootout when he was spotted in Northwest Jacksonville.
After the collision, the Camaro's metrics showed it was going 53 mph and not braking when it struck Landreville's oncoming cruiser on 9th Street.
The police cruiser was disabled, and Bing's car left the road and struck a building. Butler said Landreville got out of his car and walked toward the Camaro without pulling his weapon. He ordered the man, who was out of his car, to surrender, and something caused Landreville to pull his gun and fire five times, hitting Bing once in the head, Butler said.
Bing, who was unarmed at the time of the shooting, died the next day at UF Health.
Family hopes lawsuit brings answers
Bing’s mother said after the shooting that she couldn't believe her son was killed just weeks before his son, Vernell Bing III, was born.
“It's a tragedy,” Kurpiers said. “Nothing we say, nothing we do is going to bring back the father of this child. It is tragic that this occurred.”
Bing's cousin, Gary Bing, talked Thursday about how sad it is that Bing's son will never get to meet his father.
He said the family is hoping that by filing the lawsuit, someone will be held accountable.
After Vernell Bing was shot, his family had to make the decision to remove him from life support. Gary Bing said that since then, the family has been left with questions.
“We understand that it's going to take a lot of investigation. We just have a lot of questions that haven't been answered,” Gary Bing said. “We have a lot of information that we are seeking.”
The attorneys for Vernell Bing's family said he was limping away from the crash as he was shot, and Landreville's actions were either in bad faith, with malicious intent or showing willful disregard for human rights or safety.
The lawsuit claims both Landreville and Williams are responsible for Vernell Bing's death.
Pastor R.L. Gundy said many of the questions surrounding the shooting would be answered if JSO officers had body cameras.
“We need to be transparent. The immediate thing the sheriff needs to do to be transparent is not wait to get the body cameras but start having independent investigations when they shoot people in this community,” Gundy said. “That would start bringing more integrity, more trust to this community, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office released a statement Thursday about the lawsuit:
The JSO has been made aware a news conference was held today by representatives for the family. Per our standing protocol, no comment is made on lawsuits/intent to sue statements.
With respect to the investigation, we await determination on the criminal case from the State Attorney’s Office.
Regarding the use of surveillance cameras, we don’t reveal the locations of surveillance cameras, with few exceptions including release for legal proceedings.
Lastly, some have inquired about the status of our pilot program for body cameras. We continue to talk to vendors and formulate our pilot program. We will keep you updated on developments regarding this project."
FBI to review shooting
The FBI was brought in in June to independently review the investigation into Vernell Bing's shooting death.
Williams said it's unusual to announce such reviews to the public, but he wanted to assure the community that the process is above board.
"This case has garnered a lot of attention, and there are a lot of questions in the community about the way we investigate shootings," Williams said. "I think the answer to that (is that) an independent review of our investigation is appropriate in this case.”
JSO will still be conducting its own investigation into the shooting.
The FBI will not investigate the shooting or the sheriff's office, but as the lead agency that investigates civil rights, the FBI will review JSO's internal investigation once it’s completed and turn all of its findings over to the Department of Justice.
The State Attorney's Office said Thursday that there is still an active investigation into the shooting.