Lawsuit in sniper death of child settled for $1.5 million

Mar. 28—Claims against the cities of Joplin and Baxter Springs, Kansas, along with Cherokee County in the 2022 death of 2-year-old Clesslynn Crawford, have been settled with the girl's family for $1.5 million.

The city of Joplin and its insurer paid the bulk of the settlement, $1.4 million.

Joplin City Attorney Peter Edwards said the city has a self-insurance fund that paid $100,000 of the city's share and an insurer paid the remainder.

"The council did vote to tender our $100,000 and let the insurance company handle the mediation and settle their liability" that was determined to be $1.3 million, he said.

The city of Baxter Springs and Cherokee County each paid $50,000 toward the settlement because of the involvement of their law enforcement agencies. That brought the settlement total to $1.5 million.

The settlement was approved by a court Nov. 16, 2023.

Standoff shooting

The girl was shot in the head by a Joplin SWAT team member while Joplin police assisted Kansas law enforcement during a standoff between Eli Crawford, the girl's father, and law enforcement authorities March 26, 2022. The standoff occurred as the result of a domestic disturbance call to Crawford's trailer home in the 300 block of Wyandotte Avenue in Baxter Springs.

As the result of an investigation by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation into the incident, the KBI reported that Baxter Springs police went to the address in response to a woman's 911 call for help. Eli Crawford answered the door when officers knocked but slammed it shut when he saw police.

His daughter, Clesslynn, reopened the door, and her mother, Taylor D. Shutte, 27, of Webb City, ran out of the trailer, leaving the girl behind. As she fled, the father stepped outside, shot her multiple times and began shooting at the four police officers there, according to the KBI.

The officers retreated a safe distance without returning fire, even though Crawford kept shooting at them using a number of guns, the KBI said. Shutte died of her wounds where she had collapsed.

Baxter Springs police put out a mutual aid request that brought the Joplin SWAT team, as well as Cherokee County deputies, the Kansas Highway Patrol and the KBI, to the scene. According to court documents, the Joplin Police Department was told that a suspect had killed his wife and was holding a child hostage.

Crawford fired more than 90 rounds at officers while refusing to come out of his home, the KBI reported.

Court filings state that the SWAT officer had been given authority to take a lethal shot if he were able to obtain a line of sight on the man.

According to the KBI investigation, the sniper reported that he saw what he believed was a male figure pass back and forth before the window and stop on the left side of the window frame.

The report cites the following as the sniper's description of what happened next:

"I was presented with his upper torso and his arm. And I could tell it was that, because I could see the triangle of light between his left — his torso and his arm. I aimed at the left side of the frame of the window without hitting the framed — without hitting the frame, and I aimed up to where I thought it would be about his pectoral region and I fired a round.

"I reloaded. Just seconds later, there was a muffled shot. It didn't sound like a normal gunshot I had been hearing. The other two snipers on the west side, watching the front door, came over the radio and said they heard a muffled, a muffled, or a round fired from inside."

The report states that just after the sniper fired his round, Crawford could be heard on the phone to the negotiator and the other with his friend exclaiming that Clesslynn had just been shot in the head through the window. He told his friend, "See you later, bro," and the muffled gunshot was heard.

The investigation, including autopsies on all three bodies, determined that the sniper's round killed the girl and that her father then killed himself, according to the report.

The girl's body was found lying on the floor parallel to a couch in the main living area and slide-out section of the trailer. Her father's body was a few feet away in the kitchen area.

The KBI turned its investigation of the shooting and its findings over to the Cherokee County prosecutor, who determined that no charges were warranted against the officer and cleared him of any wrongdoing.

The girl's grandmother, Carla Crawford, and her grandfather, Richard Anderson, filed a lawsuit over the girl's death about a year ago in the U.S. District Court of Kansas.

The lawsuit alleged that the father asked the law enforcement officers to allow him to send the girl out of the trailer, but the KBI's report of preliminary findings released in April 2022 made no mention of any demand by the father to have the girl removed from the scene.

But the lawsuit states that he "had been demanding that a family member be allowed to get (her) out of the trailer for purposes of keeping her safe."

Name disclosure

The officer who fired the shot filed a lawsuit four days after the settlement against the city of Joplin to prevent the city from disclosing his name. That lawsuit is still pending in Jasper County Circuit Court. It seeks a permanent injunction to prevent release of his name to the public. He is listed in the lawsuit as John Doe.

Lawsuit documents state that the release of his name "is reasonably likely to pose a clear and present danger to the safety" of the officer and perhaps his family. The lawsuit contends that because of the danger, Missouri law requires the name be closed and redacted from any record.

Sam Zeff, a National Public Radio reporter for Kansas City affiliate KCUR, has filed as an intervenor in the case to oppose the closure. He has sought the name from the city in an open records request and asks that the lawsuit be dismissed.

The city contends there is a disagreement on whether the records containing the officer's name are still subject to litigation and cannot be made public except by a judge's order.