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Family sues the city over fatal shooting

The family of a Cheektowaga woman who died from a stray bullet fired by a police officer during a shootout earlier this year has filed a lawsuit against the City of Buffalo.

The parents of Amber Marie Keller filed the suit in State Supreme Court.

Officer Thomas P. English was returning gunfire from a suspect April 7 when the officer's bullet struck Keller in the head as she looked out the window of a nearby house on Genesee Street.

She never regained consciousness and died May 14 at the Center for Hospice & Palliative Care in Cheektowaga.

The lawsuit contends that Keller, 20, died due to "the negligent discharge of a deadly weapon by a police officer employed by" the City of Buffalo "in such a manner as contravened [the city's] training, policies, established standards and guidelines for the use of deadly physical force" to safeguard the public.

The suit accuses the Police Department of failing "to properly train, retrain, supervise, qualify and requalify, test and retest its sworn police officers in the safe and proper discharge of deadly weapons" in cases "where the lives and safety of the public are at risk."

Attorney Douglas S. Cream confirmed the lawsuit, in which the City of Buffalo is the lone defendant. No specific demand for money damages can be made against municipal defendants before a trial.

Corporation Counsel Michael B. Risman called Keller's death "a tragic accident." But Risman insisted the actions of the police officer that night and the Police Department's training of its officers "appear to be very defensible."

Mario J. Pittman, who had fired at English, was later apprehended. He was convicted of attempted murder for the gunbattle.

Because he was convicted of trying to kill a police officer, Pittman faces a mandatory life term when sentenced Feb. 16 by Senior Erie County Judge Michael L. D'Amico.

e-mail: mgryta@buffnews.com

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