EAST CLEVELAND — The estate of a 13-year-old girl struck and killed last year during a police pursuit has filed a wrongful death lawsuit alleging that by disregarding procedures the Cleveland officers involved in the chase are responsible for her death.
On Dec. 20, 2019, 13-year-old Tamia Chappman, who was a student at Superior Elementary School, was walking to a library in East Cleveland with a group of friends when a car fleeing from police went up onto a sidewalk and struck and killed her.
The pursuit began in Cleveland after a woman outside a Target was carjacked at gunpoint by two men. An off-duty officer, who witnessed the robbery, followed the stolen car. Soon after, officers responded to the location and gave chase. The pursuit, which the lawsuit refers to as “egregiously reckless and unnecessary,” continued into East Cleveland at speeds up to 75 mph.
The pursuit ended near Lakefront and Euclid avenues when the car crashed after hitting Tamia. A 15-year-old boy was arrested at the scene. He has since been charged with murder, aggravated robbery and robbery.
"It's still a difficult situation to deal with with the way she was taken away from them," said Chappman's aunt, Eileen Cunningham.
Click here to read the lawsuit.
The lawsuit, which was filed against nearly two dozen Cleveland police officers, states that the officers’ actions in the chase “were in conscious disregard of or indifference to a known or obvious risk of harm to another that was unreasonable under the circumstances.”
"It is clear from our independent investigation these 22 officers did not exercise due care and as a direct result of that Tamia Chappman is not here with her family," said attorney Shean Williams during a teleconference announcing the filing of the lawsuit Thursday.
It also states that police violated Ohio law and department procedures “in that the immediate danger of the pursuit is less than the immediate danger to the public if the suspects in the fleeing vehicle remained at large.”
According to the lawsuit, Tamia’s death was a “direct and proximate result of the negligent, grossly negligent, willful, wanton, reckless, intentional, extreme and outrages actions” by the defendants.
"At the time that this incident, chase occurred, the original victim was already safe," said Williams. "The only thing they were chasing at that point was property. There's never a situation where property should be taken over the life a person, particularly this young lady."
The lawsuit seeks a jury trial and an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages.
Jeff Follmer, the president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association issued the following statement:
"Tamia Chappman's death was a tragic loss. Officers acted within the guidelines that day and committed no wrongdoing. The chase was initiated by two individuals who committed a violent crime and needed to be apprehended."
But attorneys for Chappman's family believe a lack of training and policies giving officers too much discretion in pursuits need to change.
"The responsibility to protect and serve was not on these individuals, it was on the officers who gave an oath to this family and to this community to take reasonable actions when they're serving out their duties," said Williams.
The department made the following statement: "This incident remains under investigation. The city does not comment on ongoing litigation."
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