For Immediate Release
April 24, 2013
Contact: media [at] bradynetwork [dot] org
Brady Center Files Lawsuit against Gun Dealer, Purchaser, and Trafficker for Family of Thomas Wortham IV, Police Officer and Iraq War Veteran Killed with Straw Purchased Gun
Chicago, IL – The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence today is serving a lawsuit on behalf of the family of Thomas E. Wortham IV, who was murdered with a trafficked gun outside his parents’ home on May 19, 2010 in Chatham, Chicago. The suit is being filed against the gun dealer and traffickers who sold the gun used to kill him. The lawsuit will be filed today against Mississippi gun dealer Ed’s Pawn Shop and Salvage Yard, Michael Elliot, and Quawi Gates, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, Oxford Division. The complaint alleges that Wortham was killed with a firearm illegally obtained in a straw purchase and trafficked from Mississippi to Chicago.
The Wortham family is represented by Jonathan Lowy, Director of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence's Legal Action Project, and Richard Barrett and Don Barrett of The Barrett Law Group, P.A. of Lexington, MS. Mr. Lowy said, “Responsible gun sellers, like most Americans, recognize that guns should be sold with the greatest care, to prevent arming dangerous people with the means to kill. Gun sellers who choose to funnel guns into the hands of killers and criminals must be held accountable. Thomas Wortham served his nation with honor and courage, and he deserved far better. We as a nation should not tolerate irresponsible gun sellers who choose to profit from supplying killers and criminals with guns.”
Key Facts About Suit
According to the complaint, on May 19, 2010, Thomas E. Wortham IV, a Chicago police officer and Iraq War veteran, was shot and killed by a group of gang members who were attempting to steal his motorcycle. The complaint alleges that the weapon used to kill Wortham was illegally purchased by Defendant Michael Elliot at Defendant Ed’s Pawn Shop and Salvage Yard (“Ed’s Pawn Shop”), owned and managed by Defendant Bruce E. Archer. The complaint includes eight counts against the defendants, including negligence and negligent entrustment by Defendant Ed’s Pawn Shop in the sale of handguns.
Mayor and Governor Statements About Wortham
Then-Chicago Mayor Richard Daley stated at Wortham’s funeral “the people of Chicago have lost a compassionate man, a community leader who touched many lives - worked tirelessly to make his neighborhood and his beat a better place to live.” Governor Quinn hailed Wortham as a role model for children, explaining that Wortham “had a servant's heart . . . [and] led an exemplary life – a purposeful life.” Media outlets including The Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune, ABC, CBS, and others provided extensive coverage of the shooting, funeral, and subsequent criminal investigation.
Officer Wortham was shot and killed as he left his parents’ home in the Chatham neighborhood of Chicago, following a visit during which he showed his parents pictures from events he had recently attended at National Police Week, an annual gathering in New York and Washington, D.C. honoring law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. When Wortham approached his vehicle, a recently purchased motorcycle, two men emerged from a nearby car, brandished a handgun, and demanded he surrender the vehicle. Wortham alerted the men that he was a police officer and displayed his service weapon. A brief exchange of fire ensued. Meanwhile, Wortham’s father, retired police officer Thomas E. Wortham III, quickly retrieved his own weapon and opened fire on the assailants, fatally wounding one. However, Thomas Wortham IV was shot and killed by one of the surviving assailants, who quickly fled in their vehicle.
Officer Wortham was killed with a .45 caliber Smith & Wesson handgun that was purchased illegally by Defendant Elliot at the request of Defendant Gates, who paid $100 to Defendant Elliot for the straw purchase. Defendant Elliot served a six-month prison term for providing false information on a federal firearms form, namely in stating that he was the actual and intended buyer of the weapons he purchased. Defendant Gates, who was convicted of conducting many such straw purchases with the intent to traffic the weapons to Chicago, is currently serving a ten-year prison sentence.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (“ATF”) routinely traces the history and movement of guns used in crimes like the murder of Thomas Wortham IV, identifying the manufacturer, distributor, and ultimately the dealer that sold the weapon in question. ATF data show that just over 1% percent of the nation’s licensed gun dealers supply 57% of the guns used in crimes (“crime guns”). Government data also show that the vast majority of dealers sell zero crime guns each year. These findings demonstrate that there is a small but active group of corrupt or negligent dealers who supply the criminal market with the firearms that are used to commit violent crimes in cities and towns across the country every day. Firearms dealers remain one of the most important channels for diverting firearms from the legal market to the illegal market.