Attorneys for the family of an Ahwatukee Foothills woman who was shot and killed by a Chandler police officer plan to file a wrongful-death lawsuit today.
Dawn Rae Nelson, 25, was shot by officer Dan Lovelace on Oct. 11, 2002, at a Walgreens drive-through pharmacy in Chandler. Her husband, John Nelson, plans to announce the lawsuit against Lovelace, who was fired in November, and Chandler with his attorneys today in Phoenix.
“We're not seeking a specific amount,” said lawyer Bob Boatman. He withheld answers to other questions pending a news conference at 11 a.m.
Lovelace's attorney, Craig Mehrens, said Lovelace acted in self-defense when he says Nelson drove her Chevrolet Camaro toward him. Lovelace was called to investigate a forged prescription that police said Nelson had written for soma, a muscle relaxant.
"I can certainly say that both Dan and I believe it's not a legitimate claim," Mehrens said Sunday. "His actions were entirely justified."
Lovelace was charged by Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley with second-degree murder in November. The charges were initially dropped, but filed again in May. His first court appearance to face criminal charges is Sept. 22.
Mehrens said Lovelace and his wife, who are expecting their first child, feel "terrible" about the incident. But he added that he feels the lawsuit is being
filed "because people want money."
"Unfortunately for the Nelsons, this is a tragedy," he said. "But they weren't there, and Dan was. It's a tragedy for the Nelsons as well as the Lovelaces."
Chandler Councilman Phill Westbrooks, who criticized former Chandler Police Chief Bobby Joe Harris after the shooting, said he was confident that "justice would prevail."
"I want justice for both parties," he said. "Taxpayer money being used for lawsuits is not, I don't believe, the best use, but it does happen. We're a big city, and incidents happen."
If filed, the suit will be the second wrongful-death lawsuit filed against Lovelace in his duties as a Chandler officer. Casey Downing, whose son Bradley, 19, was killed March 14, 2000 by a driver fleeing from Lovelace, is suing the former officer in a case indefinitely delayed in the face of Lovelace's criminal trial.
Lovelace had been chasing Rosemarie Forker east on Chandler Boulevard near North Monte Vista Street when she crashed into Downing's car, killing him.
- Tribune writer Marie Gelinas contributed to this report.