Virginia Beach, VA – A jury has awarded $800,000 to the family of a woman who was fatally shot by police when her boyfriend, an accused hit man, opened fire on officers from the passenger seat of the vehicle she was driving.
Police later discovered the couple’s uninjured four-month old son, Roman, riding in the back seat of the vehicle, The Virginian-Pilot reported.
The incident occurred on Sep. 5, 2015, when four Virginia Beach SWAT officers spotted 35-year old homicide suspect Angelo Perry traveling in a vehicle being driven by 27-year-old India Kager, according to The Virginian-Pilot.
According to federal prosecutors, Kager was driving Perry to a 7-Eleven store so he could pick up payment he was owed for carrying out the earlier murder of a drug dealer.
He was also suspected of having opened fire on another drug dealer, but missed his target and murdered an innocent bystander instead.
Perry had previously served 12 years in prison for malicious wounding and use of a firearm, and was released on parole in 2014, The Virginian-Pilot reported.
Detectives had been surveilling Perry in the wake of the murders, and received a tip that he planned to go kill yet another person just before they watched Kager pull into the parking lot of the 7-Eleven store.
The officers used a “flash bang” grenade, then descended on the passenger side of the vehicle, at which point Perry fired four rounds.
A bullet went through the sleeve of one officer’s uniform shirt, but he was uninjured.
The officers immediately returned fire, killing both Perry and Kager.
Autopsy results showed that Kager had 10 bullet “defects,” which may have been caused by seven or eight bullets – some of which may have passed through Perry’s body first, The Virginian-Pilot reported.
In 2016, Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney Colin Stolle ruled that the shooting was justified, and no criminal charges were filed against any of the officers.
Kager’s unnamed estranged husband and Kager’s mother, Gina Best, filed a $15 million lawsuit against the officers in May of 2017, The Virginian-Pilot reported.
The family said that officers were negligent when they returned fire, and argued that Kager, a Navy veteran and U.S. Postal Service worker, had no criminal history or involvement with Perry’s illegal activities, despite her actions at the time she was shot.
On Monday, the jury determined that Virginia Beach Officers Kyle Ziemer and Steven Ferreira acted with gross negligence and were partially responsible for Kager’s wrongful death, due to the fact that their bullets were the only ones recovered from her body.
Each was ordered to pay $400,000 to Kager’s estate.
"While we were hoping it would be more, we were satisfied that the fact they found that there was a problem with the way this particular matter was handled by the police on that night," the family’s attorney, Kevin Martingayle, told WAVY after the verdict.
"India Kager was more than a number. We were trying to get recognition. This was a badly executed SWAT take down and it should never happen again," he added.
The four officers involved in the shooting are all still with the force, and Virginia Beach Police Chief Jim Cervera said he backs them “100 percent,” The Virginian-Pilot reported.
“[These officers] put themselves in harm’s way to stop him,” Chief Cervera said. “That’s a heck of a virtue for a person to have… Yes, it’s very difficult for these young officers, every day, to put on a bullet-proof vest, put a gun on their hip and go out and attempt to stop violence from violent people.”
The officers’ attorney, Christopher Boynton, said that having the opportunity to represent the officers was the greatest honor of his 23-year career.
“[The officers] were anything but indifferent to the life of India Kager that night,” Boynton told The Virginian-Pilot. “[The summer was] a murderous rampage by a very dangerous individual.”
It was unclear whether either side planned to appeal the jury’s decision.