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January 28, 2007
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Seattle may owe $2 million in police pursuit damages

By LEVI PULKKINEN
Seattle Post Intelligencer

A couple hit and severely injured by an errant driver during a police chase likely will receive $4.5 million in damages -- much of which could come from city of Seattle coffers.

A King County Superior Court jury ruled Thursday that the city is partly liable for the collision because a Seattle Police Department officer who continued a chase that the jury found he should have abandoned.

The driver of the car -- Ronisha Rashawn Kelley -- is liable for $4.1 million to Pacific County residents Ronald and Jeanette Ashley. But the city could have to pay Kelley's share of the damages if she's unable to do so.

City Attorney Tom Carr said the city will appeal the jury's verdict. But he said the ruling sends "a terrible message" to patrol officers who must decide whether to pursue suspects.

The Ashleys were visiting Seattle for their honeymoon on June 13, 2003, according to court documents. They'd spent the day seeing the sights at the Seattle Center.

Seattle police Officer Ted Mansour had stopped Kelley a few blocks away, near the intersection of First Avenue North and West Mercer Street. According to court documents, Mansour had spotted Kelley failing to come to a stop at a red light.

Kelley later told police in a written statement that she was driving without a license at the time, and was afraid she'd be caught driving her employer's car. She was working as a nanny and was driving with the 23-month-old child she was paid to watch.

According to court documents, Kelley guessed that her car was going at about 80 mph when she entered the crosswalk with the officer in pursuit at the intersection of Fifth Avenue North and Mercer Street and collided with the Ashleys. She was later arrested after crashing into a nearby tavern.

Both Ashleys suffered severe, lasting damage to their legs, said Todd Gardner, the attorney representing them.

Jeanette Ashley's knees were dislocated in the crash -- surgeons nearly amputated her lower legs -- and Ronald Ashley suffered a shattered pelvis, Gardner said. Neither will be able to work again.

In 2003, Kelley pleaded guilty to two counts of vehicular assault, hit-and-run and attempting to elude police. She was sentenced to two years in prison.

During the jury trial, Carr said, the city argued that police were right to pursue Kelley because they believed she had kidnapped the toddler in the car.

"If that were your kid, would you want the police officer to just walk away and forget it?" Carr asked. "I don't think that the police officer did anything wrong."

Seattle police policy restricts officers to continuing a pursuit only when "the need for immediate capture outweighs the danger created by the pursuit itself." That means drivers suspected of committing traffic violations, misdemeanors and most property crimes should not be pursued.

Gardner said the chase should never have occurred.

"This was absolutely the situation where the vehicle should not be pursued," Gardner said.

In its verdict, the jury dictated that the city pay $457,400 to the Ashleys for its part in the crash.

But unless its appeal is successful, the city also is responsible for making sure Kelley pays the $4.1 million the jury decided she owes, and it will have to pay the balance if she doesn't.

Full story: Seattle may owe $2 million in police pursuit damages






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