When a grand jury convenes in the death of a Fort Calhoun man early next year, it will be the first time in 20 years that such a proceeding has been conducted in Washington County.
Washington County Attorney Scott Vander Schaaf expects a petition to be filed to convene a grand jury in the death of Jackson Potadle, 19. State law requires a grand jury be called when someone dies when being arrested or while in custody.
Potadle died in a high-speed crash Nov. 10 after he fled a traffic stop in the 2400 block of County Road P43.
Washington County sheriff's deputies were preparing to search the vehicle when Potadle took off north at a high rate of speed.
The deputies attempted, but were unable to catch the vehicle. Minutes later, they came upon the car, which had struck a tree in the 4600 block of CR P43 just west of U.S. Highway 75.
An autopsy was ordered. The county attorney's office is awaiting the results.
Once the results are received, the county attorney will certify the death. Within 30 days of the death certification, a petition must be filed to convene a grand jury. The jury must be impaneled within another 30 days. The county attorney's office can ask for an extension.
As part of the grand jury, three law enforcement investigators who have training in homicide investigations, will review the evidence. They will then make recommendations and present their findings to the county attorney's office.
“Those findings are then what we present to the grand jury,” Vander Schaaf said.
A grand jury is often convened to determine if an indictment can be or needs to be filed. In this case, the grand jury will be tasked with a fault-no fault decision.
“In this scenario, what you're looking at is whether officers followed procedure, whether there is any fault on behalf of the agency involved and whether or not there needs to be something further done,” Vander Schaaf said.
The grand jury could choose to offer an indictment if they believe criminal acts were done.
“To date, there's no information that we have received that suggests that the officers involved here went against policy,” Vander Schaaf said. “They did no criminal acts so there is no criminal liability as we stand now. We're not pursuing anything like that.”
Vander Schaaf said the Nebraska State Patrol is still investigating the crash. Vander Schaaf expects the grand jury could be convened in late February or early March.
The last grand jury convened in Washington County was on Aug. 10, 1998, in the death of Jay Jensen.
Jensen, 24, died March 27, 1992, in Herman of two gunshot wounds to the head. His death was ruled a suicide, but the case was reopened in 1997 when new evidence was found and a potential witness came forward.
Richard Kuhr was indicted, but later found not guilty following a trial in February 2000.