Whitworth family denies city counterclaim in SWAT raid lawsuit

The city denied all the Whitworths’ allegations in its response.
Spencer Pearson / Graphic Designer

An attorney for Columbia residents Jonathan and Brittany Whitworth, who filed a lawsuit against the city and the police department, asked the court to drop a counterclaim filed against them by the city in connection with a February SWAT raid at their home.

The Whitworths filed the response papers in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, where they have filed a lawsuit against the city of Columbia, the Columbia Police Department and several members of the CPD SWAT team who were part of the raid at the Whitworth's house. The response denies that Jonathan Whitworth was responsible for injuries he allegedly sustained during the raid.

Their lawsuit seeks damages from the city, the police department and the officers in connection with a Feb. 11 SWAT raid in which officers shot both of the Whitworths' dogs, one of them fatally. A video of the raid was posted to YouTube, where it was viewed more than 1.5 million times and generated feedback from around the world.

Officers arrested Jonathan Whitworth on a misdemeanor drug charge. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia in April and was fined $300.

The Whitworths filed their lawsuit Sept. 20 in federal district court. Attorneys with the Jefferson City-based firm Schreimann, Rackers, Francka and Blunt, LLC, which represents the city, filed a counterclaim against the Whitworths on Oct. 8.

The city denied all claims made by Whitworth and asked they be dismissed. Its counterclaim seeks damages from the Whitworths and says Jonathan Whitworth was responsible for his injuries.

“Specifically, Plaintiff Jonathan Whitworth was negligent for his own assumption of the risk, the illegality of his conduct, and in such further respects as will become better known through the course of discovery,” the response stated.

It also states officers were acting lawfully and in self-defense when they shot both of the Whitworths’ dogs.

The Whitworths’ attorney, Milt Harper, said in an interview this week he was not surprised by the city’s claims because defendants frequently make claims against plaintiffs in their initial filings.

“It’s about what you’d expect from the defense,” he said. “Why would they admit to doing anything before the trial?”

The city’s risk manager, Sarah Perry, said in an interview this week she couldn’t comment on why the city chose to file its counterclaim and said the city’s lawyers had decided what would be in the response.

“Because this matter is in litigation, I can't comment about the response,” she said. “The response was made on the city's behalf by the attorney representing the city in this matter."

Perry also said the city had not been in any settlement talks with the Whitworths before the lawsuit was filed because it had not known it was going to be sued in connection to the raid.

“The city received no indication of a claim or pending litigation prior to the lawsuit being filed,” she said.

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