The family of an Andover woman shot to death by a Sedgwick County Sheriff’s deputy after she failed to stop over a license plate violation has filed a civil rights lawsuit in connection with her December death.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court in Kansas City, Kansas, alleges Deputy Kaleb Dailey used excessive force against Debra Arbuckle in the early morning hours of Dec. 30, 2019, when he rammed into her Volkswagen CC following a 19-minute chase then fired multiple times into her passenger window before she had time to comply with commands to step out of her car.
Wichita police had tried to pull over Arbuckle for a having a license plate on her Volkswagen sedan that wasn’t registered to it.
The lawsuit, which was filed against Dailey, says neither Dailey nor any other officer involved in the pursuit knew Arbuckle’s identity until after the 51-year-old was dead. They also did not know she had active warrants or was considered an absconder by the Kansas Department of Corrections at the time of the chase and shooting.
Yet, Dailey sped from where he was patrolling in west Wichita to the east side of town — topping 140 mph on Kellogg — when he heard chatter about the chase over emergency radio traffic, the lawsuit says. He ran her car off the road at 3:43 a.m. after other officers had used stop sticks to deflate her tires, leaving her driving on a rim at no more than 15 mph.
Dailey shot her less than a minute later, when she put her car into reverse, activating her taillights.
“This was an excessive use of deadly force and a completely unnecessary loss of life,” said Michael Kuckelman, the Overland Park attorney who filed the suit on behalf of Arbuckle’s estate and her son, Alek Hansen.
“Deputy Dailey could not have feared for his safety, as he had nearly two car widths separating him from the driver (Arbuckle). She wasn’t driving in his direction, and she wasn’t driving in the direction of any officers that night. She didn’t have a weapon, and her car was disabled. But Deputy Dailey decided to shoot and kill her anyway.”
Reached Tuesday morning by email, Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Benjamin Blick said he was not aware of the lawsuit and declined to comment on it.
The Sheriff’s Office has previously said Arbuckle did not comply with commands from deputies the morning she died, put her car in reverse and accelerated toward officers before Dailey fired. Her warrants were for failing to appear in court, criminal possession of a gun and traffic charges.
As of Tuesday, Dailey remained employed by the Sheriff’s Office. He has faced no criminal charges in connection with the shooting and the case is still under review by the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s office. Arbuckle’s family is calling for his termination and for the revocation of his law enforcement license.
Kuckelman said when the Sheriff’s Office announced Arbuckle’s death, it focused on her criminal history and drug addiction, which he thinks is a “sneaky and misleading” move to “distract attention from the wrongdoing of Deputy Dailey.”
“They (authorities) wanted reporters and the public to think they had chased down a dangerous criminal and shot her dead to protect Wichita,” Kuckelman said.
“The truth is that they had absolutely no idea who Debra Arbuckle was when they shot and killed her. She was an addict who only harmed herself — never anyone else — and she certainly didn’t deserve the death penalty for having the wrong license plate.”
In a phone interview, Hansen said his mother had struggled with cocaine addiction and “had a pretty rough history,” but that before her death “she was on a path.”
Hansen said when he was young, Arbuckle was thought of as the “neighborhood mom.” She loved to cook, looked forward to time with family and friends, and worked as an addiction counselor when she was clean, he said.
The day before she died, she even called to chat with his fiancee about what to wear to their upcoming wedding.
“I don’t think she was at her worst, by any means. She looked good. She’d been more clear than I’d seen in previous months and years,” Hansen said.
“She had an energy about her that would just light up a room. … She was just special as an individual.”
The lawsuit seeks actual and punitive damages including burial expenses and requests a jury trial in Kansas City, Kansas.
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