Mother sues sheriff, county

Jackson Potadle

A Fort Calhoun teenager who was killed in an accident after fleeing a traffic stop in 2017 had a controlled substance in his system at the time of the crash, according to documents filed in Washington County District Court.

Jackson Potadle, 19, died in a high-speed crash Nov. 10, 2017, after he ran from sheriff's deputies in the 2400 block of County Road P43. Deputy Ashley Brammer and Sgt. Jacob Hoffman were preparing to search the vehicle due to the smell of marijuana coming from inside when Potadle took off north at a high rate of speed.

Brammer attempted, but was unable to catch the vehicle. A few moments later, she came upon the crashed car lodged in a grove of trees in the 4600 block of CR P43, just west of U.S. Highway 75.

Potadle's mother, Vicki Ahmann, filed a lawsuit March 25 against Washington County and Sheriff Mike Robinson. She is seeking $1 million in damages.

Thomas J. Freeman, a defense attorney for the county, has made a motion for summary judgement without a full trial on three factors:

• There is no record that Ahmann was appointed by any court to represent Potadle's estate.

• The complaint fails to state a claim for relief and makes no factual or legal basis for liability on the part of either the sheriff or the county.

• There is no evidence the sheriff's office was negligent in its pursuit of Potadle.

A hearing on the motion is set for Aug. 13.

Documents filed in support of the motion offer evidence and testimony from a grand jury investigation, which was convened in early 2018. The results of that proceeding were not made public. However, no indictments were filed against Brammer or Hoffman, who was in charge of the shift and was also on scene that night.

Detective Sgt. Aaron Brensel testified that Potadle was known to sheriff's deputies based on prior charges of possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. He also testified there were reports he was harboring a runaway juvenile and selling psilocybin mushrooms and marijuana.

Brammer testified she was also familiar with Potadle.

During the stop, Brammer noticed signs consistent with possible drug use and contacted the K9 unit. Hoffman arrived with the K9 and also noted the vehicle smelled like marijuana.

When deputies approached to search the vehicle, Potadle had locked the doors and rolled the windows down halfway to speak to the deputies.

When deputies told Potadle they would be searching the vehicle, he fled the scene at a high rate of speed.

Brammer pursued Potadle for approximately a minute and a half, according the document. She was forced to slow down and lost sight of the vehicle several times due to the terrain and Potadle's speed.

Brammer then came upon fresh skid marks in a curve on the road and found the vehicle in the ditch.

An accident reconstructionist with the Nebraska State Patrol (NSP) estimated Potadle had to have been driving at a minimum of 88 to 91 mph at the beginning of the skid, where the posted speed drops from 50 mph to 25 mph.

The NSP's investigation noted Potadle's vehicle struck a tree with enough force to uproot it and turn the vehicle approximately 180 degrees.

The deputies attempted to render aid and called for medical assistance, but Potadle died at the scene.

A toxicology report revealed Potadle had THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in his system.

State troopers found marijuana, a pipe used to smoke marijuana and brass knuckles with a knife on the driver's side floorboard of the vehicle.

In her lawsuit, Ahmann contends the deputies violated Washington County's pursuit policy, including that the reason for the stop did not justify the pursuit and the stop was not a felony nor a misdemeanor, but “merely a traffic citation.”

The litigation also says Hoffman had the authority to cancel the pursuit, but he did not.

Robinson testified to the grand jury that he reviewed the evidence surrounding the stop and pursuit and found “there were no violations of policy whatsoever” and that he not only didn't discipline anyone as a result, but “commended them for what they did.”

NSP Sgt. John Mobley, who investigated the accident, determined that the cause of the crash was “Potadle's operation of the vehicle at a willful reckless speed and his possible impairment due to a known controlled substance in his body.”

Mobley noted that marijuana is a known depressant, which can cause a person's ability to perceive and react to known threats to be decreased and causes slower reaction times.

During its investigation, the NSP found there was no criminal wrongdoing on the part of deputies.