Family of man killed by Tacoma police officer in 2019 files claim against the department

The family of a Tacoma man shot and killed by police last year is suing the city the police department. Attorneys for the man's mother, who include an attorney representing the family of George Floyd, announced the first step in the lawsuit which will eventually be filed in federal court.

Up until now, information on the death of 24-year-old Bennie Branch has been minimal. Tacoma Police said last September that Branch was killed by an officers during a traffic stop, and said a handgun was found on him.

Now, attorneys for Branch's family say the investigation into the shooting reveal a different picture, saying Branch was shot numerous times in the back while running away from police.

"Our current understanding is there was at least five shots, a couple to his arms and two or three to his back," said Crystal Lloyd, one of the attorneys for the Branch family.

Lloyd said police are only supposed to fire their guns if there is an immediate threat to their lives, or the public.

"An unarmed man simply running away from the police is not enough to justify the police using excessive deadly force," she noted.

What police initially reported to be a hand gun was later found to be a BB gun. Where that BB gun was when Branch was shot is a big question.

Attorneys said Tacoma Police said the BB gun was on Branch when shots were fired, but Branch's mother who reportedly witnessed the shooting says that's not true.

"At some point the BB gun came lose from his person and the officers either brushed or kicked it away according to Ms. Branch's statement. He got lose from the police officers at that point and began to run away and then was shot," said Lloyd.

Lloyd said today is the first step in what will be a lengthy fight for justice.

"We seem to be experiencing a pattern of these cases recently in the Pierce County area. This is one of three cases that have come to the public's attention that have involved either the Tacoma Police Department or Lakewood Police Department in the last 10 months, all involving shootings of local men, who are minorities, and this has become a real problem here in Pierce County the needs to be addressed."

Q13 News reached out to Tacoma Police, but the spokesperson for the department said they hadn't been informed of the claim until media called and was not prepared to comment at that time.

The Pierce County Sheriff's department presented their investigation into the shooting to prosecutors in February. Pierce County prosecutors said tonight they are still reviewing the case.