Star football player's parents file wrongful death lawsuit

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The family of a man killed by a Harris County Sheriff's deputy nearly two years ago are going after the people who shot him and their boss: Harris County.

Former Oklahoma State University football standout and Westfield High School alumnus JeRay Chatham was allegedly following his ex-girlfriend while carrying a butcher knife.

The Sheriff's Office says the deputy who shot Jeray Chatham was investigated, and they found no policy violations in that fatal encounter. A grand jury declined to indict the deputy. But Chatham's parents say he should still be alive...and if the deputy was trained properly for this type of call...he would be.

"There's not a day go by that I don't think about him, and I look at his photograph and realizing what potential he had in life," says his father Ray Chatham.

That deputy responded to a report that JeRay was following his ex-girlfriend. When deputies got to the scene, they say he stripped to his underwear and ran.

"That shows you right there this is a person that's not necessarily in their right mind so to speak," says attorney for JeRay's family Brennen Dunn. "You know that somebody who may be suffering from some type of emotional distress or mental distress, you don't handle them the same way you handle everybody else."

Investigators say that deputy shot him out of fear for his life when JeRay lunged at him. Witnesses say that's not what happened, and according to a wrongful death lawsuit against the County, independent autopsy results show that Chatham was not shot in an area consistent with deputy accounts of the events.

"The way they killed him, shot him...he did not deserve that," says his mother Belinda Green.

The lawsuit says: "Harris County, by and through the Sheriff's Department have a practice and pattern of exhibiting violent, provocative, oppressive and abusive conduct by officers. The county did not correct or adequately address this known misconduct."

"What we'd like to see most of all is the proper training to be provided to these officers so these innocent kids don't keep getting killed based on misunderstandings," says second family attorney Darian Conston Sr.

A Sheriff's Office spokesman tells Eyewitness News there are currently 58 open use of force investigations right now.

The County Attorney's Office gave us a brief statement: "We're going through the lawsuit and will be filing the appropriate papers with the court."

JeRay's family says they want justice and change.

"I know they have a tough job. But also everyone don't deserve to just be shot because you're afraid of your job. If you are, get a new job," Ray Chatham says.

According to the lawsuit, the family is seeking at least $1 million dollars. More than money, they say the core issue here is training so this doesn't happen again. It's worth noting JeRay had previously been charged with assaulting the ex-girlfriend he was allegedly following, and several other crimes related to their relationship.
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