Months after acquittal for manslaughter, Michael White faces wrongful death lawsuit

In October, a jury found Michael White not guilty of fatally stabbing Sean Schellenger. Now, Schellenger’s family is seeking damages in civil court.

Michael White leaves court after a jury found him not guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the stabbing of real estate developer Sean Schellenger. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Michael White leaves court after a jury found him not guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the stabbing of real estate developer Sean Schellenger. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The family of Sean Schellenger, the developer who was fatally stabbed during a racially charged confrontation near Rittenhouse Square in July 2018, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Michael White, the food courier who was acquitted of voluntary manslaughter after telling a jury he used his knife in self-defense.

The civil complaint, quietly filed in Delaware County Common Pleas Court in late January, also names Uber Eats as a defendant. White, who is Black, was delivering food ordered through the mobile app the day Schellenger, who was white, died.

Filed three months after a jury acquitted White of voluntary manslaughter, the suit alleges that White’s “reckless,” “careless” and “negligent” behavior directly led to Schellenger’s death.

The complaint points to a series of choices White made, including his decision to “intentionally insert” himself into a discussion between Schellenger and a driver blocking an intersection, drive a knife into Schellenger as Schellenger allegedly attempted to disarm White, and run from the scene afterwards.

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The suit seeks more than $50,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.

White and Schellenger crossed paths on July 12, 2018 because of a traffic jam. A beige Ford Taurus was blocking the intersection of 17th and Chancellor streets, making it difficult for the black Mercedes-Benz Schellenger and his friends were traveling in to make a turn, according to court testimony.

White was pedaling his bike towards West Philadelphia to deliver a fast-food order when he reached Chancellor Street.

White told jurors he came face-to-face with Schellenger seconds after he tried to de-escalate a brewing dispute between the driver of a Taurus, who was Black, and Schellenger, who had been drinking alcohol before the encounter. White said Schellenger was heading towards the Taurus when he spoke up, telling Schellenger he didn’t “have to act like a tough guy.”

White told jurors he stabbed Schellenger in self-defense as Schellenger tried to tackle him. White said he feared for his life after Schellenger told him through gritted teeth that he was going to “beat the black” off him.

In mid-October, after three days of testimony, a Philadelphia jury acquitted White of voluntary manslaughter.

The panel also found him not guilty of one count of possessing an instrument of crime, but convicted him of tampering with evidence, a charge that stemmed from White throwing his knife onto a roof after fleeing the deadly confrontation, as well as disposing of his bloody clothes.

White’s defense team, which includes attorney Michael Coard, declined to comment.

Anthony Reagoso, who is representing the Schellenger family, also declined to comment on the case, saying the “allegations are in the complaint.”

The suit maintains that Uber Eats had “a duty … to conduct its delivery operations in a safe and non-negligent manner, and to avoid causing bodily injury and death to others, including members of the public like Sean Schellenger.”

A spokesman for Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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