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$30.7 Million Police Chase Verdict

On July 26, 2021 the lives of five innocent victims were forever altered when an undercover Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) police cruiser chased a black Ford 500 into the intersection of 21st and Broadway in the West End of Louisville. The driver of the Ford had failed to use a turn signal 8 blocks earlier while turning right on a green light from one-way Hill Street onto one-way 21st Street. The resulting crash and explosion created a scene akin to a Ukrainian warzone.

The Ford first struck Walter Jackson’s SUV in which Brent Bernier was a passenger. Their injuries included a broken back for Walter and a broken neck for Brent. The Ford also struck the sedan in which John Robinson was a passenger causing John to suffer soft tissue injuries. Next, the Ford ran over the moped being operated by 22-year-old Trevon Mitchell who unfortunately succumbed to his gruesome injuries while his best friend, Aidan Colmore, who was following Trevon on another moped, could only watch in horror.

This police pursuit was in clear violation of LMPD policy which banned pursuits over traffic infractions. The first paragraph of the LMPD policy further clarified: “It is the policy of LMPD that the pursuit operation of a police vehicle is justified only when the need of apprehension outweighs the dangers created by the pursuit”. The fleeing Ford 500 reached speeds of over 100 miles an hour, while the LMPD cruiser topped out at 89 miles an hour while travelling down an intercity roadway with a 35 MPH speed limit. The sad and bitter irony of this fiasco was that the LMPD partners in the cruiser that evening were part of a special violent crimes detail, assigned under the chief’s orders to reduce crime in the city. The actions of LMPD’s officers resulted in a violent crime for which the driver of the Ford was sentenced to 18 years for involuntary manslaughter. Previously, the driver was involved in only low-level drug offenses. Sadly, the officer’s mission to prevent violence ended in an act of irreversible violence committed in the very community the officers were sworn to protect.

Here is a surveillance video from a local restaurant which captured the fiery collision:

  1. Regular speed and slowed down

Here is an animation commissioned by Bolus Law Offices that includes the arbitrator (i.e., dash cam) footage taken from the police cruiser. This animation showcases the harrowing pursuit in violation of long-standing LMPD policy, all over a failure to signal at a green light:

The effects and damages caused by this collision following the pursuit against policy were tremendous. Trevon Mitchell, a 22-year-old man with aspirations to join the military and serve his country, had his life and his future ripped away from him following a grueling and harrowing battle for his life from the evisceration injury he had suffered – i.e., his bowels and other organs were outside of his body. Walter Jackson, a long-time committed employee of the city working for MSD, suffered a broken back among other injuries, and will suffer from the pain and effects of this collision for the rest of his life. Brent Bernier, a recovering alcoholic who was on a path to recovery, suffered devastating injuries to his neck and back – and has been thrust back into the depths of despair of the cruel disease of addiction due to the pain and suffering this accident has caused. Aidan Colmore, just 15 years old at the time of the incident, who was riding his moped next to Trevon and miraculously avoided being struck, had to watch in horror as his best friend was leaving this earthly world why crying out “I’m dying. I’m dying. Please don’t let me die”. Aidan will suffer from the psychological effects of this harrowing traumatic experience for the rest of his life. John Robinson suffered relatively minor injuries.

This case was originally filed naming Officer Timothy Nett – as the LMPD traffic collision report had incorrectly identified Officer Timothy Nett as the pursuing officer. It was not until after suit was filed, and after media coverage had begun, that an amended traffic collision report was released with the correct name of the pursing officers – Rookie Cop Benjamin Sullivan, who was driving the cruiser, and his longer tenured partner that evening Joseph Nett, who was riding shotgun (Officer Joe Nett was ultimately dismissed from the case on the grounds of qualified immunity – a contentious decision which garnered much dispute and is the subject of an appeal). A troubling course of legal proceedings followed where the very guardians of public trust—the police—engaged in a campaign of troubling misrepresentations which the police lawyers furthered in their defense at trial.

Exhibit A to this shameful defense of this case stems from LMPD Public Integrity Unit (PIU), which was charged with investigating potential criminal charges against Officers Sullivan and Nett. PIU Sergeant Keeling shockingly and unconscionably determined that Officer Sullivan had committed no crime prior to ever interviewing Officer Sullivan. This was the first time in Sgt. Keeling’s career that he decided not to pursue criminal charges before interviewing the alleged criminal offender. In addition, Sergeant Keeling initially swore in affidavits to obtain search warrants that this incident was a pursuit, but later changed his wording to describe such as a stop after the lawsuit was filed.

Sergeant Keeling admitted on the stand that there was no evidence to support the pursuit, while at the same time concluding that Sullivan had acted with due regard.

PIU’s internal counterpart, the Public Standards Unit (PSU) was tasked with investigating policy violations committed by LMPD’s officers. Both police reports – the first incorrectly naming Tim Nett as the driver of the policy cruiser and the second correctly naming Ben Sullivan as the driver – listed the interaction as a pursuit. Nevertheless, it took 17 months for PSU to conclude there were policy violations by LMPD’s officers. PSU Sergeant Lamont Washington concluded Officer Sullivan only had violated policy by engaging in a pursuit forbidden by policy. Interestingly this conclusion was arrived at 5 months AFTER Officer Sullivan admitted to the pursuit in violation of policy in his depositions taken in this case. Officer Sullivan had maintained in both his PIU and PSU statements that there was no pursuit. In contrast to the 18-year sentence imposed on the driver of the Ford – Officer Sullivan was given a 16-hour unpaid suspension for violating the pursuit and body camera policies. Officer Nett – who has been promoted twice since the crash – was given verbal counseling for violating the body camera policy.

The disturbing conduct that began with the traffic cop and the traffic collision report unfortunately did not stop with Sergeant Keeling. Rather, it went all the way to the top when Chief of Police Jacqueline Gwinn-Villaroel took the stand and continued the deceptive narrative. Despite the clear breach of protocol, the Chief attempted to justify the actions of the LMPD and Officer Sullivan, creating a stark dissonance between the department’s actions and the core values they are expected to embody. Her testimony, which sought to shift responsibility away from the department, only served to deepen the chasm of distrust between the community and those sworn to protect it, leaving many to question the veracity of the department’s commitment to transparency and ethical conduct. Chief Jacqueline Gwinn-Villaroel’s credibility was further undermined when it came to light that she had not been truthful about wearing her body camera at the scene. Her assertions were starkly contradicted by photographic evidence, suggesting a deliberate omission that further eroded public confidence. Sgt. Keeling testified that because of this misrepresentation LMPD’s Chief is now a Brady Witness, meaning prosecutors must turn over this evidence of potentially exculpatory untruthfulness to a criminal defendant in any criminal action in which LMPD’s Chief testifies as a witness.

During the trial of this matter, the defense unfurled a strategy steeped in sheer avoidance: pin everything on the driver of the Ford 500 and sidestep any semblance of responsibility for LMPD’s officer. Clinging to this narrative, they veered into the realm of the absurd, pointing fingers at the Ford’s driver’s legal firearms, blatantly ignoring the avalanche of evidence, compelling testimonies, and irrefutable video footage proving that the LMPD officer greatly contributed to this catastrophe. Their stance was a glaring admission of having no leg to stand on, since every officer who testified admitted there was no basis for the pursuit.

Following this long and grueling 3-week trial the jury rendered their verdict after 9 hours of deliberations. The Jury returned a substantial and landmark verdict of $30.7 Million in damages for the 5 plaintiffs, including a Kentucky record $20,000,000 pain and suffering verdict for Trevon. The Jury, which was under the impression that Officer Sullivan would have to personally pay any judgment in this matter, found Officer Sullivan only 3% at fault for the incident and attributed 97% of the fault to Larry Williams. In a contentious decision relative to disputed Kentucky Law, the Jury was not allowed to hear evidence that the city of Louisville had a duty to indemnify Officer Sullivan – that is, to pay for all of his defense costs and any judgment (notwithstanding punitive damages, to which the jury assessed $0).

The tragic events and subsequent trial have laid bare the profound consequences of policy violations and systemic failures within the LMPD. The $30.7 million verdict is not just a reflection of the staggering losses suffered by innocent lives; it is a clarion call for accountability, an imperative for systemic reform, and a sobering reminder of the work that remains to be done to ensure that those who are sworn to protect do not become agents of harm. This case underscores the need for stringent adherence to policies designed to safeguard public welfare, the enforcement of meaningful disciplinary actions when such policies are breached, and a transparent, trust-rebuilding process between law enforcement and the communities they serve.