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Court rules Wichita officer Justin Rapp will face civil trial in Andrew Finch killing

Wichita Eagle logo Wichita Eagle 7/6/2022 Matthew Kelly, The Wichita Eagle

Jul. 5—The Wichita police officer who shot and killed Andrew Finch in a now-infamous 2017 swatting incident will face a Sedgwick County jury in an excessive force civil case being brought by Finch's family.

The 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Tuesday reaffirmed a district court decision to deny summary judgment for Justin Rapp, the Wichita officer who was promoted to detective in June amid pending lawsuits and a Netflix docuseries that focuses an episode on the web of events that led to Finch's death.

Finch, a 28-year-old father of two, was unarmed when he opened his front door to law enforcement, who were responding to a call from a California serial hoaxer who reported a bogus murder-hostage situation at Finch's address.

"Finch had not committed any crime and had no way of knowing why police were surrounding his home," 10th Circuit Chief Judge Timothy M. Tymkovich wrote in the decision.

"Approximately 10 seconds after Finch first opened the door and stepped onto the porch, Rapp fired a single shot from his rifle, hitting Finch in the chest. Finch fell backwards into the residence, where he died within minutes."

District Attorney Marc Bennett declined to prosecute Rapp for shooting Finch, and the Wichita Police Department's Professional Standards Bureau conducted an administrative investigation that found Rapp violated no department policy.

Andrew M. Stroth, a Chicago-based civil rights lawyer representing Finch's family in the civil case, said the 10th Circuit ruling is a momentous one.

"The city attempted to thwart the Finch family's opportunity to have a trial, and now, at least based on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, this case moves forward," Stroth said.

"The kids and the family will finally have their day in court."

Rapp's legal counsel, Samuel Green and Steven Pigg, who were hired by the city, argued in court that Rapp should be entitled to qualified immunity because a reasonable officer could believe Finch posed a threat of serious physical harm.

"The district court concluded that a reasonable jury could find that (1) Rapp fired a shot when he could see Finch's hands were empty, (2) Rapp's assertion that Finch made a threatening motion was false, and (3) Rapp could not see Finch's movements clearly due to darkness and distance, along with numerous other facts," Tymkovich wrote.

Easha Anand of the MacArthur Justice Center, who served as the Finch family's lead appellate lawyer, said a jury of Sedgwick County citizens should be the ones to grapple with facts of the highly publicized tragedy.

"Finally, nearly five years after Andrew Finch was killed, having a jury sit down and sift through the evidence — that's incredibly important, not just for Andrew Finch's family but for the whole community to reckon with what happened here and what went so horribly wrong," Anand said.

The appellate court also affirmed the district court's decision to accept summary judgment on civil liability claims against the city of Wichita, dismissing the argument that Finch's death was in part caused by WPD's "inadequate investigative and disciplinary process" around officer-involved shootings and its "custom of using lethal force on unthreatening civilians."

The court found that Finch's lawyers "failed to show any deliberately indifferent policies or customs that caused Rapp to use excessive lethal force."

Tyler Barriss, the 911 caller who claimed that he had shot his father in the head and was holding his mother and brother at gunpoint in a closet at Finch's address, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and other crimes and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Green and Pigg, Rapp's lawyers, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

Green and Pigg are the same city lawyers who successfully argued that the Wichita officer who shot and killed Icarus Randolph in 2014 couldn't get a fair trial in Sedgwick County amid news coverage of a recent racist text messaging scandal. The trial of Officer Ryan Snyder, who killed the Black Marine veteran, has been delayed until at least August.

This story was originally published July 5, 2022 2:41 PM.

(c)2022 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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