The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that the family a teen killed last year in a fatal police chase has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Louisville Metro Police officers, claiming they should not have chased the vehicle. The vehicle was in fact a stolen car, but the driver was giving rides home to four teenagers from a youth group event. Aaron Shields was one of the four teens who died in the crash.
The parents of Aaron Shields claim that police officers found the stolen vehicle while it was unoccupied – before Herbert Lee, III, the driver, was asked to give Shields and three other teens a ride home on December 18, 2008. But the police did not take possession of the vehicle at that time. The lawsuit alleges that Officers Dale Cottongim, James Franklin, and Aaron Tinelli waited until Youth Alive staff had placed four teens in the vehicles and asked 17-year-old Lee to take them home. The police officers then pursued the car at a high rate of speed in bad weather “for a lengthy period of time,” according to the lawsuit. Police spokeswoman Alicia Smiley said that she could not comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit names Youth Alive, a youth group for at-risk teens, as a defendant as well, claiming that Youth Alive staff acted negligently by placing teens in a vehicle with Lee, who did not have a driver’s license (but did have a criminal record). Defendants named in the lawsuit include Youth Alive founder Kenny Boyd and employee Tanya Middleton, several Youth Alive board members, Louisville Metro Police, and Chanika Bartee, the mother of Lee. According to Lee’s mother, he had volunteered to drive some teens to the youth group event. When Lee tried to leave, he was told to take some people home since he brought some people. The teens were placed in Lee’s vehicle because they lived near him and because the youth group’s vans were overcrowded. Lee is facing trial on chargers of murder, evading police, receiving stolen property, reckless driving, and driving without a license. Lee fled when police tried to pull him over and eventually lost control of the vehicle and ran into a tree. The crash split the car in two. The four teen passengers were killed.
Boyd, founder of Youth Alive, could not be reached for comment. A self-described former drug dealer, he started Youth Alive for at-risk teens so they would not fall into the same street life that he experienced.
The lawsuit seeks a jury trial and punitive and compensatory damages. Of course, I do not know all of the facts in this case, but given the nature of the youth event, it seems like the police officers would have stopped the driver of the stolen vehicle before he left, if they indeed found the car while it was still parked. But perhaps the police had good reason for their actions. If this case goes to trial, more facts will be revealed.
If you have lost a family member due to negligence or recklessness, contact an Atlanta, GA wrongful death attorney as soon as possible. You may be entitled to recovery. Call MLN Law at 404-531-9700 for a free consultation.