Family files $15 million wrongful death lawsuit against Virginia Beach Police

Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – Family members of a man shot to death by Virginia Beach Police have filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

Body camera video captured the shooting of 57-year-old Jeffrey Tyree in February.

Officers were originally called to Paiute Road that day for the report of a man trying to harm himself with the knife. That’s in the Arrowhead neighborhood, off Newtown Road.

During several hours of negotiations, police said Tyree picked up the knife and approached one of the officers in a “threatening manner.” Another officer shot Tyree.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Colin Stolle found the shooting reasonable, justified and legal under the circumstances. He said the officer was in danger and the officers involved would not face any charges.

The lawsuit is seeking up to $15 million in damages, or an appropriate amount to be determined by a jury, but the family says it’s not money they want, it’s accountability. They say that Tyree was a threat to himself but not to police.

“(Virginia Beach Police) been absolutely unwilling to share the least shred of reality,” said Tim Tyree at a press conference Thursday morning. “My brother was not a monster.”

“He was a great brother, he was great in the community, and you’d hear people say he’s the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back.”

The family says Tyree was in a mental health crisis which developed after the loss of his wife and the ailing health of his mother. They called the officers’ conduct reckless, unreasonable and unjustified. A police detective shot Tyree once in the upper body and he died at the hospital.

Tyree says his brother was disabled from an accident while he was a trucker, and was physically incapable of being a threat to police.

“He couldn’t lunge if he wanted to. He walked with a cane some days, and some days he needed a walker.”

Local attorney Kevin Martingayle is partnering with Friedman and Gilbert, a firm from Cleveland that specializes in police shooting cases, to represent the Tyree family. They say the detective who shot Tyree, Bradley Colas, had a history of violence and mental health problems himself.

“He had a psychiatric incident where he ended up stabbing to volunteer firefighters, I believe, and shooting at another one,” said attorney Sarah Gelsomino.

Gelsomino says of all the cases that she has handled involving police use of force, Virginia Beach has been the worst in terms of responding to requests for information.

“I have never once dealt with a police department or prosecutors office that was so disinterested in transparency and accountability.”

The Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office gave us this statement in response to the lawsuit:

“We made public the detailed report on this incident and released the body camera footage.  Criminal investigative files are not routinely released. Upon filing a civil suit, there’s a process in place to obtain criminal investigative records.  The attorneys in this case need to follow the same procedures as in other civil matters.” 

The City Attorney’s office will handle the lawsuit on behalf of Virginia Beach, as is the custom in police use-of-force cases. Deputy City Attorney in charge of litigation Chris Boynton said Thursday his office was just receiving the lawsuit and it was too early to respond or comment.

We reached out to Virginia Beach Police for comment but had not received a response by Thursday evening.

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