‘Eyes are open now’

Tyler Rushing’s father appeals court dismissal, discusses impact of George Floyd’s death

Scott Rushing speaks at a roadside remembrance for his son, Tyler Rushing, as David Phillips, father of Desmond Philips, looks on. Both men’s sons were killed by Chico police in 2017. (Photo by Ken Smith)

Tyler Rushing was a “smiling, gentle human being” who rubbed shoulders with celebrity clients of his commercial and residential window washing business, and was a stage-lighting wizard and an adventurous soul driven to help the less fortunate.

That’s how Rushing’s father, Scott, described his son to about two dozen people gathered across the street from Mid Valley Title & Escrow—the site of Tyler’s 2017 killing during an encounter with an armed security guard and Chico police officers—on the evening of July 23. Since his son’s death, the elder Rushing has tried to counter the image of a violent, drug-addled homeless man he said local law enforcement and some media have cast in portraying Tyler. The Rushing family has held remembrances at that date and location every year since for what they refer to as his “Angelversary.”

The previous day (July 22), a federal judge in Sacramento ruled to dismiss the Rushings’ wrongful death lawsuit against the Chico Police Department, Armed Guard Private Protection and the city of Chico. The judge who dismissed the case wrote that the involved officers’ “restrained and methodical response is precisely what one would expect to see from [their] civil servants.” At the gathering Rushing promised to keep fighting, and the following next day, his Sacramento-based attorney, Mark Merin, filed an appeal of the district court summary ruling with the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

“My legal team believes there are several omissions, errors and statements without merit made by Judge Morrison England,” Rushing said during a phone interview the day after the sidewalk memorial.

“I would have been surprised if the judge would have ruled in my favor,” he continued. “Typically, the Ninth District Court is a pro-police court, which is something I’ve learned over the past three years.”

Rushing explained that conclusion is based on his observance of similar suits brought by the families of Desmond Phillips and Breanne Sharpe, both of whom were also killed by Chico police. Both of those cases were dismissed by the same judicial body.

In the case of Sharpe, a 19-year-old fatally shot in 2013, the appeals court partially upheld the dismissal of cases against four of the officers involved but reversed dismissal of an excessive force claim against former CPD Sgt. Scott Zuschin. The decision on the Sharpe appeal read, “The right not to be shot in a car that poses no immediate danger to police officers or others is clearly established.” A jury trial was scheduled for April 2019, but the city of Chico ended up paying a settlement of $950,000 to Sharpe’s mother, Mindy Losee.

Rushing said his goal is a jury trial and that he believes a jury will side with him after hearing the details of Tyler’s killing, particularly in the current climate of raised awareness and ongoing protests of police violence following the videotaped killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

Tyler Rushing’s final minutes and death were recorded by several officers’ body cameras, and his father believes that the footage would foster sympathy among jurors and prove his death was avoidable.

Scott Rushing (Photo by Ken Smith)

“The people of this country’s eyes are open now,” he said. “This has been happening for so long, and George Floyd’s death is a real game-changer. It was a callous, cowardly killing, and it’s unfortunate that it’s taken this horrible death to make people aware.

“When I watch the video of George Floyd’s killing, I can’t help but see Tyler’s face,” Rushing continued. “Like Floyd, Tyler was killed while other officers stood by. There were six other officers outside the bathroom door, and they could have told Scott Ruppel [the former CPD Sergeant who shot Tyler at close range], ‘Come on, the kid’s been shot and bitten by a dog, let’s just wait it out.’”

Just as he believes Floyd’s death—though tragic and unnecessary—is a catalyst for changing policing and holding officers accountable, Rushing also hopes his son’s death was not entirely for naught. At the roadside remembrance, he noted that Chico police were involved in four officer-involved shooting deaths from 2013 to 2017—those of his son, Phillips, Sharpe and Eddie Gabriel Sanchez Jr (killed in November 2015). No others have been killed by CPD officers since Tyler, which Rushing credited to the ongoing work and pressure of local groups such as Justice for Desmond Phillips and Concerned Citizens for Justice.

Rushing said his son would be proud to know his death has had some positive effect, adding: “Tyler wouldn’t want anybody to suffer and die like he did.”

Desmond Phillips father, David, was present at the memorial, and also spoke about the ongoing fight for justice and police accountability. “The Chico PD already took our sons,” Phillips said. “But we’re trying to stop them from taking yours.

“We just want them to stop taking people’s loved ones and children.”

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