Judge dismisses wrongful death lawsuit of Fort Calhoun teen

Published: Sep. 7, 2020 at 5:42 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - A local mother waited three years for her day in court after her son died running from law enforcement. The judge has ruled on the case.

In his 15-page order, District Court Judge John Samson dismissed the case. In his view, the chase was appropriate.

In November 2017, a Washington County Deputy pulls over Jackson Potadle at 10:30 p.m. He was speeding.

A few minutes later, another deputy stopped at the scene and smelled marijuana. They planned to search the car.

Deputy: “All right Jackson -- unlock the door.”

The 19-year-old from Fort Calhoun panicked and took off. The chase was on with speeds up to 90-miles-per-hour. It didn’t last long.

Two miles down the winding county road, Jackson Potadle lost control and hit a tree.

Sheriff: “You did nothing wrong. You did everything you should have.”

Deputy: “I can’t believe this happened. All because we were going to search his vehicle for the odor of marijuana, and he took off.”

His mother sued the department for wrongful death, arguing that because they knew who he was and where he lived, that they shouldn’t have pursued him over a minor offense.

After listening to a day of testimony, the judge disagreed. In his order -- Judge Samson ruled that deputies had “sufficient justification” to pursue and appropriately weighed the risks of doing so -- and that the teenager’s conduct that night was “reckless and negligent.” In his conclusion, the judge quoted one of the attorneys, “There is no tragedy in life like the death of a child. Things never get back to the way they were.”

Then adding his own words, “The law is clear that sympathy cannot be allowed to influence a verdict” only evidence.

Jackson’s mother told me she had hoped that by shining a spotlight on this case it would give others pause when considering chasing a suspect for a minor incident.

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