A jury awarded more than $1 million in a wrongful death suit that claimed a man died of injuries he suffered in a traffic accident with a Baton Rouge police officer.
An attorney for the deceased man’s family claimed the crash was never adequately investigated, telling jurors in his closing argument that it appeared there was a cover-up.
“A police officer violated the law and nothing was done about it,” attorney Charles Musso Jr. said.
“I hope the jury’s verdict sends a message to the Police Department that they have to obey the law just like everyone else,” he said.
Nelson Dakmak Jr., the son of the man who died in the accident, said he believes police have a hard job and that they typically work diligently to do it well.
But, he said, in the incident involving his father, “I believe the police officer was negligent.”
Musso said the jury late Friday found police Sgt. Stephen C. Tibbetts “100 percent at fault” for a Feb. 2, 2008, accident involving Nelson Dakmak Sr.
The accident occurred at 10:47 p.m. at Airline Highway and Delcourt Avenue, a pre-trial order says.
Dakmak, who was 82 at the time, was driving a 1994 Geo Prizm south on Airline when he tried to make a left turn onto Delcourt, the order says.
While trying to maneuver the turn, Dakmak’s car collided with Tibbetts’ marked police unit, the order says.
Tibbetts was chasing a fugitive north on Airline when the collision occurred, the order says.
Musso said his client was paralyzed in the accident and died two months later because of injuries from the crash.
Musso claimed Tibbetts was responsible for the collision because he was driving at excessive speeds without turning on his lights or sirens, which is a violation of state law.
In the seconds before the crash, Tibbetts was traveling between 75 mph and 92 mph, the pre-trial order says.
Musso said it was impossible for Dakmak to tell how fast the officer was going because his client was two football fields away from Tibbetts when he started making the left turn onto Delcourt.
Musso added that the Police Department failed to investigate the accident, specifically the speed at which the officer was traveling, or take action against Tibbetts, who has been in 13 wrecks during his almost 20-year law enforcement career.
Veronica Jones, Tibbetts’ attorney, was unavailable Monday, but said in the pre-trial order that it was Dakmak who was at fault in the accident, not her client.
“The plaintiff failed to see what he should have seen,” Jones said in the order. “He failed to maintain a proper lookout for all oncoming traffic.”
As a result, Tibbetts did not have sufficient time to avoid the collision and is, therefore, not negligent, Jones said in the order.
Jones also said in the order, there is no proof the injuries Dakmak suffered in the crash caused his death.
Police spokesman Cpl. L’Jean McKneely said Tibbetts is still a sergeant with the Police Department and is assigned to the K-9 division.
McKneely, on behalf of Police Chief Dewayne White, declined additional comment.
The case against the Police Department was assigned to state District Judge Wilson Fields.