The widow of a Millville police officer who died during a July vehicle pursuit has filed a tort notice that preserves her right to sue the city’s Police Department.
But her attorney said no decision has been made if the department is actually at fault and no lawsuit will be filed until the end of an internal investigation.
Frederick Jacob, the attorney for Susan Reeves, filed a tort notice Sept. 20 in relation to the death of her husband, Christopher Reeves, an officer with the Millville Police Department who died July 8 after a suspect allegedly fleeing another incident crashed into his patrol car.
Under state law, a tort claim must be filed within 90 days of an incident in order for Susan Reeves, who is also a Millville police officer, to be able to sue a public entity.
The claim lists damages at
$10 million but notes it could be changed at a later date.
The claim states an intention to sue over negligence by the department specifically for allowing “a police chase knowing that there was a substantial certainty of injury or death that would result, and without following the proper protocol for engaging in such chase.”
But Jacob said they have just started investigating and have not made any determinations about whether the department was actually at fault.
“If the city did everything appropriately there won’t be a lawsuit,” he said. “(The tort claim) is necessary in order to preserve the option. She has not made a decision that she will sue the city.”
Millville Public Safety Director Dave Vanaman and Police Chief Thomas Haas declined to comment, because it is ongoing litigation.
Christopher Reeves, 40, was serving as a back-up officer in an incident in which Timothy Seidel, 23, of Commercial Township, allegedly was driving erratically and had struck another police car. Authorities said Seidel’s vehicle crashed into Reeves’ cruiser at about 2:15 a.m. at Broad and Third streets.
Seidel has been charged with vehicular homicide, aggravated manslaughter, aggravated assault and driving while intoxicated. He is at Cumberland County Jail on $400,000 bail.
Jacob said her client has decided to file a lawsuit against Seidel.
“He is the primary defendant,” he said.
But regarding the department, Jacob said there are many other facts that need to be obtained and many are not yet available since there is a criminal investigation against Seidel.
The tort claim does not list any individual members of the department or city government.
Susan Reeves, 30, took a leave from the department after the incident and has yet to return, Vanaman said.
The issue of whether the incident actually was a “chase” remains unclear.
City police said Reeves’ cruiser was hit by Seidel after Seidel hit the other police cruiser about a block away. Officials with the state PBA said city police were chasing Seidel.
Jacob would not comment on details of the crash.
A police officer can only initiate a pursuit if the officer “reasonably believes” the suspect committed certain offenses, such as a crime of the first or second degree, according to the State Attorney General’s pursuit policy, last updated in 2009.
The officer must also reasonably believe that the suspect “poses an immediate threat to the safety of the public or other police officers.”
The officer must further consider other issues, ranging from the likelihood of a successful chase to the amount of pedestrian traffic in the area, before beginning a pursuit.
The policy states there should be no pursuit for a motor vehicle violation unless the suspect is operating the vehicle in a way that endangers other people or police officers.
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