The Charleston City Council on Monday approved a six-figure settlement with the family of a teenager and his toddler cousin who were subjected to excessive force by three Charleston police officers in 2017.
In a unanimous vote, council members approved a measure that included two settlements totaling $130,000 during their regular meeting in Charleston City Hall.
Charissa Watts and Elektra Watts sued the city of Charleston, the Charleston Police Department and the three officers who they said incorrectly identified Charissa’s son, X’Zane Watts, as a suspect in a burglary and pursued him and Fenix Watts, his then-toddler cousin, with guns drawn and without identifying themselves as police officers.
The Wattses were represented by Michael Cary, of Cary Law Office, in Charleston, who said the case was a difficult one but that his clients are pleased with its outcome.
“For them, it was never about the money,” Cary said. “I think this situation renews the family and renews the faith in our judicial system.”
Kevin Baker, Charleston’s city attorney, would not comment on the settlement after the council meeting Monday.
Charissa and Elektra Watts said their sons suffered physical injuries and were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the officers’ actions, including chasing X’Zane Watts into his home and pistol-whipping him in front of his mother, on Feb. 3, 2017.
X’Zane Watts and Fenix Watts are black, and the three officers are white.
“We understand there’s a national trend with African-Americans being subjected to police brutality and, sometimes, fatal situations,” Cary said. “We’re fortunate that this case did not have a fatal outcome.”
In the City Council meeting agenda, the younger Wattses were identified by their initials, X.W. and F.W., but they have been named in court documents.
Now that the City Council has approved the settlement, the matter will go before Kanawha Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey, who has presided in the case.
Bailey will consider the settlement before the money from it is placed in a trust for the plaintiffs.
The Wattses filed the lawsuit in June 2017. The case had been in mediation for more than a year, according to court records.
In 2018, Bailey dismissed the Charleston Police Department as a defendant. The settlement is an umbrella settlement, absolving the city and the three officers — Dzenis Nikocevic, Derick Williams and Brandon Burton — of further claims from the Watts family.
In April, Burton was named the 2018 Jerry A. Jones Officer of the Year, according to a news release from the police department.
In the lawsuit, the Wattses had sought damages for pain and suffering and medical bills, along with punitive damages, attorneys fees and costs. They also sought to have the officers undergo additional training and education to address the use of excessive force, and they want the city to develop policies to prevent such actions in the future, including discipline against the officers named in the lawsuit.
Cary said it was his impression that city officials have taken those steps under Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin.
“I know they take it very seriously that there needs to be training,” Cary said. “The cadence of this case changed when Amy Goodwin took office. Without her leadership, it would have been hard to reach an amicable outcome.”
In the lawsuit, Charissa and Elektra Watts said Charissa’s then-15-year-old son, X’Zane, was walking alongside Elektra’s 2-year-old son, Fenix, who was riding in a Power Wheel vehicle, in Charleston on Feb. 3, 2017.
The three officers were traveling on Main Street, on the city’s West Side, in an unmarked gray vehicle and passed the boys, who were near their home, according to the lawsuit. One of the officers mistook the teenager for a suspect in a recent crime, and the vehicle made an abrupt stop and traveled in reverse until it was in front of the teenager and the toddler.
The Wattses said in the lawsuit that the officers weren’t wearing uniforms or obvious identifying information, and did not identify themselves as police as they exited the vehicle with their guns drawn and began yelling at the teenager while running toward him. X’Zane Watts picked up his toddler cousin and began running to their home.
The officers eventually tripped X’Zane Watts, and he dropped his cousin, but he managed to get inside of his home, according to the lawsuit. The officers followed the teenager into his house, where his mother was in the kitchen, and one of the officers struck X’Zane Watts in his head with the gun and pointed the gun at him while yelling expletives at him, the lawsuit said.
The officers reportedly held X’Zane Watts at gunpoint until they realized their mistake. Charissa Watts said the officers didn’t identify themselves before they entered her home, and they later told her her son shouldn’t have run from them.
X’Zane Watts suffered an elbow fracture in the incident and continues to suffer from nerve damage as a result of the officers’ actions, Charissa Watts said in the lawsuit.
Cary said X’Zane Watts is in high school and plans to attend Marshall University in 2021, with a double major in business and exercise physiology.
“They were definitely traumatized, as any family would be,” Cary said. “At the same time, they’re looking forward to moving on with the next chapter of their lives.”
Michael Cary is the brother of Miles Cary, Charleston’s city clerk. Michael Cary said his brother was completely removed from any involvement in the case.