BALTIMORE COUNTY, Md. (WJZ) — The family of a man fatally shot by a Baltimore County police officer during a 2019 traffic stop on I-83 has filed a lawsuit against the officer and the county.
In the lawsuit filed Tuesday, the family of 48-year-old Eric Sopp seeks damages from Baltimore County Police Officer Gregory Page after Page fatally shot Sopp during the traffic stop.
“Eric didn’t need to die. He was experiencing a mental health episode, he was suicidal,” family attorney Chelsea Crawford with Brown, Goldstein & Levy said. “The officer who killed him knew that before he fired the shots, that Eric was suicidal and he was unarmed and the family strongly believes that what happened here was a grave injustice.”
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Sopp’s family said he took off in his vehicle around 9 p.m. on November 26, 2019, after threatening to kill himself with an ice pick.
Sopp, who reportedly suffered from mental health issues, left the ice pick at home before leaving.
“He wanted his keys and I didn’t want to give them to him because I didn’t think he was in a good frame of mind,” Sopp’s mother, who asked not to be identified, told WJZ at the time.
She called 911 and, according to the lawsuit, warned a dispatcher he was driving drunk and suicidal. Officers pulled Sopp over between the Mount Carmel and Belfast Road exits.
Body-worn camera footage the police department released showed Page walking up to the passenger side window of Sopp’s Toyota Camry with his gun drawn and knocking on the window multiple times.
Page repeatedly ordered Sopp to show his hands and to turn off the car. Sopp told the officer he won’t turn off the car.
After roughly one minute, Sopp got out of the car, at which point Page fired at Sopp, hitting him.
Police did not find a weapon on Sopp at the time of the shooting but would not comment on whether they found a weapon in the car. The lawsuit contends he was unarmed.
“This officer exited his vehicle, got out of his car with his weapon drawn and his finger on the trigger,” Crawford said. “That is how he started the encounter with someone he knew to be unarmed and experiencing a mental health episode. I don’t think there is any way you can justify that behavior.”
The 26-page lawsuit accuses Page of violating Sopp’s civil rights as well as federal laws prohibiting disability discrimination.
It also claims the police department has a “pattern and practice” of using excessive deadly force against individuals with mental health disabilities and those experiencing mental health crises.
The police department said it does not comment on pending litigation.