Man asks Riviera Beach for up to $ 50 million after serious injuries in crash
WEST PALM BEACH – Domonique Washington was driving on Blue Heron Boulevard four years ago when her life was torn apart by a man who was being pursued by Riviera Beach police.
After his car was boarded by the SUV the man was driving, the 29-year-old former personal trainer cannot walk unaided, has trouble forming words, and needs help with simple tasks like to eat.
Washington’s horrific injuries are the result of the decision of two Riviera Beach cops to pursue the man who walked through a stop sign and failed to stop when cops attempted to stop him attorney Ed Ricci told a Palm Beach County jury on Tuesday. .
“The town of Riviera Beach put Domonique Washington in a wheelchair, crippled him for life, left him with brain damage, because two officers and a sergeant had a rudimentary excuse to hunt a Chevy Tahoe,” Ricci said.
During the trial, which is expected to last 10 days, jurors will hear why they should order the city to pay Washington up to $ 50 million for his health care and compensate his young son for the loss of a meaningful relationship with his father, says Ricci.
Riviera Beach lawyer said officers needed to make split-second decision
The February 2017 chase on E Avenue, which ended when the SUV driven by Lewis Franklin crashed into Washington’s Mazda Protege, should never have happened, Ricci told the jury.
“It was a violation of the law. It was a violation of departmental regulations, ”he said. “This shows the poor training the officers received as they undertook a pursuit in a residential area.”
But attorney Don Stephens, who represents the city, said Ricci had the benefit of hindsight. Like all police officers, Constables Shaundra King and Christopher Francis made a split-second decision. They had no idea the chase would end in a horrific accident, he told jurors.
“They haven’t had the benefit of seeing the end from the start,” he said.
Also, he said, officers did not pursue Franklin because he walked through a stop sign. They arrested him because he left instead of stopping.
“As the car takes off, towards a policeman, it is a criminal on the run,” he said.
But, Ricci replied, the end was predictable.
“They knowingly ran it down on Blue Heron Boulevard,” he said, noting that the five-lane freeway is one of the busiest streets in Riviera Beach.
Additionally, recognizing the “staggering” number of people who died in high-speed pursuits across the country, the department had policies to limit them, he said.
The policy prohibits high-speed pursuits unless the need to arrest a suspect outweighs the danger to the community, he said. Officers are forced to weigh the risks and are free to abandon a pursuit if they decide the threat is too great.
Knowing this, officers reached speeds of over 70 mph as they followed Lewis, putting pedestrians and other motorists at risk, Ricci said.
“The threat to the community increases and continues to worsen as they arrive on Blue Heron Boulevard,” he said, recounting a video of the chase that was captured by the dashboard camera of King.
Studies have repeatedly shown that high speed chases are dangerous.
An analysis of national freeway data from 2014 to 2018 found that 2,005 people were killed in 1,699 accidents during police chases, said a New Mexico personal injury company that conducted the study.
The death toll included 1,224 fleeing drivers or their passengers, 21 police officers and 765 pedestrians or people in nearby cars, the Fine Law Firm found.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police has reported that 91% of police chases are triggered by non-violent crimes. About 42% are motivated by simple traffic violations, the law firm reported.
Stephens said the Riviera Beach cops were just doing their job.
“It’s not a policeman doing something wrong,” he said. “He is a policeman who does his job to serve and protect the community.”
Accident victim’s medical bills estimated at nearly $ 17 million
But, Ricci said, the consequences for Washington have been severe. He now lives in Milwaukee, cared for by his mother and stepfather.
Eventually, he said, his family will no longer be able to take care of him. He will need outside help. Washington’s past and future medical bills alone are estimated at nearly $ 17 million, he said.
Franklin, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence after being convicted of fleeing law enforcement and leaving the scene of an accident, will feature prominently during the trial. While not being prosecuted, Stephens made it clear that it was Franklin, not the officers, who caused Washington’s injuries.
Even if the jury agrees that the officers are responsible and awards Washington millions in damages, the battle will only begin.
By law, government agencies can only be required to pay $ 200,000 for wrongdoing. To get more, Washington’s legal team must convince the Florida legislature to pass what’s called a claims bill, raising the cap.
But, Ricci said, Washington deserves to be compensated for the officers’ poor decision-making.
“Domonique Washington is serving a life sentence in a wheelchair,” he said.