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Family sues Montgomery County over fatal police shooting at McDonald’s drive-thru

The parents of a 21-year-old man killed by police at a Gaithersburg McDonald’s last year have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Montgomery County.

The suit claims that county police escalated a standoff with the man, Ryan LeRoux, instead of waiting for a crisis response team that officers had called because LeRoux appeared to be suffering a mental health emergency.

It also alleges that police in Montgomery County have engaged in a pattern and practice of using unnecessary force against people with mental illness.

“MCPD officers routinely use excessive and deadly force in encounters with individuals experiencing mental health and emotional crises,” the lawyers for LeRoux’s family wrote in the complaint.

A spokesperson for Montgomery County did not return a phone call requesting comment on the lawsuit.

LeRoux died on July 16, 2021, after police responded to a call for a McDonald’s customer who would not leave the drive-thru lane. Officers arrived more than an hour after the call came in, according to the complaint, and found LeRoux reclined in the driver’s seat wearing headphones and holding his cellphone.

There was a gun on the front passenger seat, according to police and the lawsuit. In all, 17 officers responded to the scene after LeRoux initially ignored commands to keep his hands up and unlock the passenger door. Police also deployed “stop strips” to prevent the vehicle from moving.

During the half-hour interaction, a police captain requested a trained “crisis negotiator,” according to the lawsuit, in an indication that the officers recognized they were dealing with someone having a mental health crisis.

Before the negotiator could arrive, LeRoux sat up in the driver’s seat and four officers opened fire, shooting 23 times, the complaint alleges.

The four officers were not charged in the shooting after a grand jury found their actions were legally justified, prosecutors announced last week. Body camera footage of the incident “appears to possibly show LeRoux point something” at police before the fatal shooting, but the videos were not clear enough to show what was in his hand, according to a report released by the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office.

The officers reported seeing LeRoux pointing the gun, which was recovered from LeRoux’s lap, according to the report.

The lawsuit claims that LeRoux had a long history of mental health difficulties and had a prescription for an anti-psychotic medication with him in his vehicle. He was involuntarily committed for mental health treatment in October 2020 during a psychotic episode, according to the complaint.

The complaint also claims that LeRoux had legally purchased the handgun recovered from his vehicle for personal protection, though it does not explain how he was able to own the gun after being involuntarily committed.

LeRoux’s mother and father, Rhonda and Paul LeRoux, both appeared at a news conference Tuesday evening. They are represented by Kobie Flowers and Joseph Espo of Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP.

Paul LeRoux said the goal of the lawsuit was to prevent similar deaths in the future.

“Ryan sat at the McDonald’s restaurant in need of desperate mental health assistance and service, and was threatening no one,” he said.

Paul LeRoux said the grainy body camera footage does not show his son pointing a gun at officers, and that the family hopes to modify the laws that protect police officers who use deadly force.

The suit requests unspecified damages and alleges violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, negligence and wrongful death. As a person dealing with mental illness, LeRoux was entitled to accommodations under the ADA, the complaint claims.

“Reasonable modifications under the circumstances would have included waiting for the trained crisis intervention assistance that had already been requested instead of hastily engaging a man in crisis and escalating a crisis into a catastrophe,” the lawyers for LeRoux’s family wrote.