Just under two years ago, Ricardo Mello, a Crookston resident, stole a police squad car during a confrontation with officers and proceeded to crash into a vehicle carrying Eddie and Patricia Briggs. Eddie Briggs, the driver, was killed and Patricia Briggs suffered injuries requiring a metal plate to be inserted into her arm.
Although Mello has been sentenced to 240 months in prison for second degree murder among other charges, the case is not over.
On April 8, 2013, Patricia Briggs filed a lawsuit on behalf of her late husband and herself against the City of Crookston and Crookston Police Officer Don Rasicot, both as an officer and personally. The suit claims intentional infliction of emotional damage and distress, and wrongful death and negligence.
Rasicot was one of the officers that responded to the Crookston VFW on Saturday, September 3, 2011 to a report of suspects, including Mello, pounding n cars and threatening occupants. When officers attempted to approach Mello, he ignored them and relocated to the Crooks Club.
Officers followed Mello into the Crooks Club and tried to take him into custody. He did not go down without a fight. After being tazed and sprayed with pepper spray, Mello ran out of the bar and drove off in the squad car, which had been left running. Mello then collided with the Briggs' vehicle at a high rate of speed.
Mello was later taken into custody after hitch-hiking a ride to RiverView Heath.
On Thursday, June 25, 2013, Judge Kurt Marben heard arguments for dismissal of the civil lawsuit. The hearing took place in Pennington County, rather than Polk County, due to a scheduling conflict.
The key to the lawsuit involves Rasicot leaving a squad car running while pursuing a subject on foot. At the time of the incident, according to Chief Tim Motherway, the Crookston Police Department did not have a policy in place regarding leaving emergency vehicles running or removing keys. However, the City of Crookston did have a general ordinance in place regarding leaving keys in vehicles when the criminal offense and subsequent accident occurred.
Attorney Joe Iverson, who is representing the City of Crookston and Rasicot, argued that Rasicot was entitled to a dismissal, as municipalities and officers are immune from suit unless they have assumed a special duty to the plaintiff, which was not the case in this matter. Briggs' attorney Tatum O'Brien Lindbo argued that Rasicot had a duty to follow the law and ministerial function trumps immunity.
Judge Marben granted O'Brien Lindbo 14 days to file an affidavit regarding the existence of a policy and procedure manual for police officers in effect at the time of the crash. In response, Iverson stated the two sides would be back in court for a motion for a summary judgment if O'Brien Lindbo was permitted additional time for discovery, saying a policy would be public data and the Chief of Police said a policy did not exist.
Page 2 of 2 - At this time, the lawsuit remains in place, awaiting a potential affidavit from Briggs' attorney, which would require another court appearance, or until both sides can reach an agreement.