There’s no way to ease the agony experienced by the loved ones of Bainbridge resident Sally B. Schultz, 85, who was recklessly killed in Solon Dec. 3 by the speeding driver of a stolen vehicle. There’s no way to bring her back. No amount of money can pay away the pain.
Jaymarlon Hayes, 19, of Berea, faces six felony counts in connection with the crimes, including vehicular homicide. He could be sentenced to 26 years in prison.
Any criminal who commits a carjacking at gunpoint, attempts to elude police at high speeds and causes a crash that kills and injures innocent people must be severely punished.
But that likely is not the end of this tragic story. Solon police Lt. William Vajdich hit the nail on the head when he said, “There’s always going to be a concern for civil liability when injuries are involved.”
That means lawsuits against the police who try to do their jobs by pursuing violent criminals; against the local governments that employ police to protect citizens; and ultimately against those same citizens who pay taxes for that protection.
Unfortunately, it also means that police are under increasing pressure to weigh the pros of fighting crime against the cons of being held civilly liable for the innocent victims of fleeing criminals. There are growing calls for police to cease and desist from doing their jobs.
Recent reports of police chases in the inner-ring suburb of East Cleveland indicate that 105 such incidents occurred in a period of just 120 days, with 40 percent of them ending in vehicular crashes. That is disturbing news, to be sure, but the indictment appears to be upon police officers who initiate traffic stops for minor offenses and then pursue fleeing drivers.
The question should be: Why do so many criminals flee from police? The answer is simple: because they are criminals. Yes, failure to comply with an order and signal of a police officer is a crime. More often than not, that particular crime follows a more serious crime such as carjacking.
The victim of the Cleveland carjacking that preceded the police pursuit from Solon through Bentleyville and Chagrin Falls before ending tragically back in Solon is lucky to be alive. But the next carjacking victim of the gun-toting criminal who caused that pursuit could be just as dead as poor Sally Schultz.
A similar Cleveland carjacking and police pursuit two years ago resulted in the death of one 13-year-old girl and injury to her two friends. A 15-year-old boy was charged with murder and aggravated robbery in connection with that heinous crime. And the City of Cleveland has been hit with a pair of lawsuits filed by the victims’ families.
Cleveland is infamously familiar with lawsuits resulting from police chases because of the 2014 pursuit and killing of two homeless drug addicts, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. An unbelievable 62 police cars were involved in the chase into East Cleveland that neared 100 mph, and 137 shots were fired into their vehicle. Mr. Russell’s criminal record included domestic violence and aggravated robbery. Despite their homelessness, their victimhood resulted in a $3 million settlement for their relatives, minus $1.2 million for the lawyers, naturally.
No doubt a similar lawsuit will be forthcoming from the family of Daunte Wright. Kim Potter, the suburban Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed him, is heading to prison after her recent manslaughter conviction. Mr. Wright didn’t deserve to die for the minor traffic infractions for which he was stopped.
We may never know for sure why he was resisting arrest and attempting to flee. But he did have an outstanding warrant on a weapons charge, and he previously was arrested in connection with another gun-related crime.
Experience tells us that taxpayers will be held accountable. But the gun profiteers who arm these criminals get a free pass.
Dave Lange is the former editor of the Chagrin Valley Times and its affiliated publications.