The mother of a Fort Calhoun teenager who was killed in an accident after fleeing a traffic stop in 2017 has filed a lawsuit against Washington County and the sheriff.
Vicki Ahmann filed a lawsuit March 25 in Washington County District Court after previously filing a political tort claim Aug. 16 in the death of her son, Jackson Potadle, 19. She is seeking $1 million in damages.
Under state law, there must be a six month waiting period following the political tort claim before a lawsuit can be filed.
“We couldn't come up with an agreement on how to settle this case and that's why the lawsuit was filed,” Ahmann's attorney, James Schaefer of Omaha, told the Enterprise on Wednesday.
On Nov. 10, 2017, Deputy Ashley Brammer stopped a vehicle, driven by Potadle, for speeding at approximately 10:28 p.m. in the 2400 block of County Road P43. Brammer was 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.
The vehicle, which had heavy front end damage, lost control on a curve in the road, entered the west ditch and struck a tree. Lengthy skid marks were visible on the paved road.
Potadle was pronounced dead at the scene.
A grand jury was convened in early 2018. The results of that proceeding were not made public. However, no indictments were filed against Brammer or Sgt. Jacob Hoffman, who was in charge of the shift and was also on scene that night.
“The grand jury was looking at the matter from a criminal perspective and they found no criminal wrongdoing,” Schaefer said. “That's a different standard than it is for a civil action.”
Schaefer said his client wants pursuit policy examined by the court system.
“Obviously, we feel the pursuit policy was violated in this particular case and that's what the claim is based on,” he said.
The lawsuit alleges the deputies were familiar with Potadle and knew his address in Fort Calhoun. It also claims the incident 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.
Schaefer said a decision in his client's favor would help her find closure.
“This was a very tragic situation, unnecessary in our view,” he said. “We feel the pursuit was unnecessary. That certainly led to the young man driving off the road.”
Washington County Attorney Scott Vander Schaaf said he couldn't comment on the lawsuit at this time. The county is being represented by an attorney through the Nebraska Intergovernmental Risk Management Association (NIRMA).
No hearing date has been set on the matter.