“I’m sure there’s going to be a number of council members who will hold their nose and vote for it,” said City Council President Ben Gray told the Omaha World-Herald.
“I’m going to be one of them. We’re obligated to do it.”
Because of a state law passed in 1988, arresting jurisdictions are forced to pay for the medical care of suspects in custody if they cannot pay for themselves.
In this case, the suspect had no insurance, and was not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid.
Therefore, the City Council had to vote to approve funds to pay $239,670.63 for the injuries of a man who was injured in a shootout with police.
“Since the medical need arose from an incident in which there was a shooting (involving Omaha police), that unfortunately makes us liable,” Assistant City Attorney Jeff Bloom told the World-Herald.
It could have been worse. The actual bill for the month of care provided by the Nebraska Medical Center and UNMC Physicians came to $479,341.25.
After negotiations with the city, Nebraska Medicine agreed to cut that charge in half, KETV reported.
Traffic Stop Turned Violent
Officer Ken Fortune, 42, a 10-year veteran with the Omaha Police, was one of three officers involved in a traffic stop that turned nearly deadly on Sept. 11, 2018.
The officers, part of the city’s anti-gang unit, were in an unmarked car when they saw 36-year-old John Ezell Jr., a known gang member, riding in another car.
The police ordered the car to pull over. The driver, identified later as Brandon Richey, initially heeded the officer’s request, but, Richey told police, Ezell shouted at him to “Go!”
The three officers were already walking toward Richey’s car when Richey tried to take off. As he did, Ezell opened the passenger door and fired at Officer Fortune, striking him in the shoulder.
The other two officers, Christopher Brown and Jeffrey Wasmund, fired back at Ezell, striking him in the chest and shoulder. His injuries were reported to be non-life-threatening.
The officers said Ezell was drunk at the time of the shooting. His blood alcohol level was 0.333, four times the legal limit, at the time of his arrest.
Officer Fortune was hospitalized but recovered enough to go home after a few days. He was back on the job within a month.
Ezell spent a month in the hospital before going to jail on charges of attempted murder, first-degree assault of an officer and three weapons charges. Ezell’s bail was set at $3 million.
Unfortunate Application of a Reasonable Law
The law requiring the jurisdiction housing a prisoner to pay for his medical costs is often necessary. A city or county could not, in good conscience, allow a prisoner to die in custody when medical care was available.
“We try to make this a decent and humane society, and if someone is injured, the person who caused that (the police) should be liable,” explained Sam Walker, professor emeritus in the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.
The city council understood its duty, but members still found it distasteful to have to care for a man who allegedly assaulted a police officer in cold blood, and nearly killed him.
“I think this is unfathomable that we are doing this,” said council member Brinker Harding told KETV.
“I understand we have to do it, but I think this is something we should think of when we’re talking with our state senators and working something through the unicameral so situations like this are not at the expense of our taxpayers.”
Council member Vinny Palmero held a similar view.
“If police are acting within good faith and not in a reckless manner, as this particular case was, then we as a city should not be liable,” he said.
The city plans to try to recover some of the money through a civil suit.
From NTD News