An attorney has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office in the case of Nancy Jane Lewellyn, a Lakeland woman shot to death in 2017 as she held a BB gun in her driveway.
Daniel A. Seward filed the lawsuit for a total of $20 million on behalf of the victim’s son, Jason Cunningham. The lawsuit alleges the woman was having a mental health crisis and that deputies shot her without warning.
The suit is for $10 million in compensatory damages and another $10 million in punitive damages.
Lewellyn was armed with what appeared to be a large pistol as she came out the front door of a residence on Woodland Pine Cove West in Lakeland and was shot. She had told the dispatcher moments earlier that she had a gun that she guessed was a .45-caliber pistol. The gun was later identified as a Marksman Repeater BB pistol.
She had said in a call to Shelby County Sheriff’s Office dispatch that she was sick, had a gun and was going to kill herself or “the next somebody I see.”
A YouTube video of the shooting (with the woman image blurred) is linked online at scdag.com/home/officer-involved-shootings. Starting at the 5:26 mark, she emerges from the house. Someone shouts around 5:29, and the first shot is around 5:30 on the video. There were about 10 shots, and then, after the woman is sprawled face-down in the driveway with bullet wounds, a deputy shouts, “Put the gun down!”
In a Feb. 1 press release, the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office said that circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting do not support the filing of criminal charges against the two deputies who shot her.
SCDAG Amy Weirich said the ruling came after she and a team of veteran homicide prosecutors reviewed an investigative report compiled by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Violent Crime Response Team.
“A thorough review of the TBI report showed that there are no criminal charges that could be brought against these two officers that would carry a reasonable likelihood of conviction,” Weirich said. “The victim made it clear that she was intent on causing deadly harm to herself or to others, and she left the deputies with no other choice but to fire their weapons. This was a tragic event for everyone involved.”
All fatal shootings involving officers of the Memphis Police Department or the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office are investigated by the TBI by virtue of a memorandum of understanding signed in 2015 by those parties and Gen. Weirich.
The TBI report has been posted online with court-ordered redactions. See links at the bottom of the page at scdag.com/home/officer-involved-shootings.