In the second it took a Fruitland police officer to shoot four rounds into a car, David Grant’s life changed forever.
It was close to midnight on Oct. 24, 2016. Grant was driving south into the Treasure Valley from his home near Coeur d’Alene. His destination was a friend’s house in Nampa. But Grant had been awake too long, and though he was on medication for bipolar disorder, his exhaustion had turned into mania.
So when police officers in rural Payette County tried to stop him — he failed to yield to an emergency vehicle, they said — he didn’t act rationally. He was paranoid and confused. The lights and sirens, and the officer yelling at him, only made him want to keep driving.
That is what his lawyer says happened the night he was shot by a Fruitland officer. Police officials have not offered their side of the story, but they may soon. The shooting is now the subject of a federal lawsuit.
Fruitland Police Chief JD Huff said he would not comment because the case is in litigation. A voicemail for the Payette Police Department’s chief was not returned.
A life changed & a lawsuit
Grant is now an “incomplete quadriplegic” — permanently unable to use one arm and two legs, with his other arm limited to things like lifting a plastic cup of water to his mouth.
Grant also is now a felon. He pleaded guilty to a charge of fleeing officers, which allowed him to avoid another charge of aggravated assault, and is now serving three years’ probation from his room in a Nampa nursing home.
He this week sued the Fruitland and Payette police departments, the cities that employ them, and several people including the officer who shot him. His U.S. District Court complaint argues the situation never justified the shooting.
The shooting is one of many in Idaho that have involved people with mental illness.
Just the month before Grant’s run-in with police, Matthew Conrad was fatally shot in Elmore County. His family and fiancee have told the Statesman that Conrad had a history of mental illness. They said Conrad was delusional the day he stood on the interstate near Mountain Home with a gun, allegedly trying to carjack passing vehicles.
The night of Oct. 24
Grant was in the throes of a bipolar mania on the night he drove through Payette County, he says in his lawsuit.
Grant’s attorney, Jason Monteleone, said his client had no illegal drugs or alcohol in his system the night of the shooting. All he’d taken was his bipolar medication, Monteleone said.
Before the shooting, Grant had several convictions for driving under the influence — the most recent in 2008 — and one conviction of driving a vehicle without the owner’s consent. The Statesman could find no criminal charges against Grant since 2009.
The night of Oct. 24, police started to follow Grant at about 11:30 p.m., as he was heading down the highway through Payette city and into Fruitland. His attorney says Grant had failed to yield to police officers. Grant kept driving for about 17 minutes before he was shot.
“My client, with the bipolar disorder, is confused, and he’s driving along, and he’s following his GPS unit, and he’s not wanting to pull over for the police,” Monteleone told the Statesman. “He turns onto the exit ramp at (Exit 3) off of I-84. … And he realizes that he’s going the wrong way — that he should’ve continued another 50 yards farther — but he realizes his error, and he begins turning around and he does (a three-point turn).”
That’s when Fruitland Police Officer Benjamin Key fired his gun.
Key had his bodycam running throughout the incident. The footage shows Key giving Grant orders, which Grant does not follow. At the end of his three-point U-turn, Grant starts to slowly drive the car along the guard rail, and Key fires his gun into the driver’s side window. Four shots can be heard.
The next time the footage shows Grant, he is slumped over in the front seat of his car. It is pulled over on the northbound side of U.S. 95, just south of a gas station. Key demands that Grant show his hands, and Key and other officers try to get him to respond. The officers eventually pull Grant’s limp body out of the car and cuff him, then start first aid.
They note gunshot wounds on his chest and arm. One round had also entered Grant’s neck; in the video, the officers don’t appear to realize that it severed his spine.
For a moment, Grant comes to. “Why do you have me in handcuffs?” he asks.
Key, who helps administer first aid, is obviously upset in the footage. He paces. He can’t catch his breath. He repeatedly asks medics about Grant’s condition.
When someone asks how he is, he says, “I’m OK. More worried about (Grant).”
He also describes in the video what was going through his mind when he fired his gun. He thought Grant might be trying to run over another officer, he says.
Idaho State Police investigated the shooting. The state agency turned its findings over to the Washington County prosecutor, who decided not to file any charges. The Statesman is working to obtain a copy of that report.
Why didn’t Grant pull over when he saw blue and red lights turn on behind him? Why didn’t he stop when officers put down a spike strip and flattened one of his tires? Why didn’t he put his hands in the air and take his foot off the gas?
Monteleone says it has to do with his client’s mental illness.
At the time, Grant had “some paranoia, some intense paranoia,” Monteleone said.
It isn’t uncommon for people who are experiencing a manic episode to become paranoid or delusional, or act confused in reaction to certain people such as police or medical workers.
According to the lawsuit, Grant drove an average speed of 55 miles an hour while police followed him. Grant stayed in his lane and used his turn signal, including when he turned onto the freeway exit.
The lawsuit argues that, regardless of Grant’s failure to pull over and follow Key’s orders, he never brandished a gun and shouldn’t have been shot. Key was in the wrong for shooting into a moving vehicle, it says.
In addition, Grant’s lawsuit accuses the officers of trying to “greatly distort and hyperbolize the threat posed by Grant’s actions to one or more of them or to the public. They have done so in a concerted attempt to advance the common objective of concealing the wrongfulness of the use of lethal force upon Grant.”
To illustrate that claim, the lawsuit says one of the officers testified in a preliminary hearing that he had to “dive” out of the way of Grant’s car, “despite the fact that he told officers who interviewed him, within 24 hours of the incident, that he had simply stepped back out of the way.”