Dead boy's parents sue sheriff, deputy
A family disputes the findings in the case of a 15-year-old who had a pellet gun at school.
Published January 22, 2008
SANFORD - The parents of a 15-year-old boy fatally shot by a Seminole County sheriff's lieutenant after wielding a pellet gun at school have sued the officer and his boss.
Ralph and Donna Penley filed the lawsuit Jan. 11, two days before the second anniversary of Christopher Penley's death. They argue that Lt. Mike Weippert and Sheriff Don Eslinger violated the boy's civil rights and wrongfully caused his death. They are seeking unspecified damages.
Sheriff's Lt. Dennis Lemma said the department's attorneys were unavailable to comment on the lawsuit Monday because of the Martin Luther King holiday but noted that investigations of the incident "completely cleared (Weippert) of any wrongdoing."
According to investigations of the 2006 shooting, Christopher showed the pellet gun to another student in a classroom and pointed it into another student's back before barricading himself in a bathroom alcove. The barrel of the gun, normally red or orange, was painted black and resembled a real 9mm handgun. Weippert, a member of the SWAT team, shot the boy with an assault rifle after feeling threatened when he said Penley aimed the pellet gun at him.
However, a hostage negotiator not far from Weippert said he did not feel threatened, and Weippert pulled the trigger without consulting with other officers on the scene who were working on a plan to apprehend Christopher, according to findings of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Sheriff's Office. Still, the State Attorney's Office and Sheriff's Office concluded that Weippert acted appropriately.
The Penleys' lawsuit also alleges that when Weippert pulled the trigger, Christopher was confined to a bathroom, had no way to escape, had no hostages and had hurt no one.
Weippert, a 20-year veteran, remains working at the Sheriff's Office as a district commander.