The Minnesota Court of Appeals has upheld a wrongful death lawsuit against a Minnesota police officer who left his unattended squad car's engine running, only to see a suspect steal the vehicle and cause a fatal crash a few blocks away.
Lawyers for Crookston Police Officer Don Rasicot argued his position makes him immune from such lawsuits, but in Monday's ruling the appeals court disagreed, allowing the lawsuit to move forward.
The suit was filed by Patricia Briggs, who was injured in the crash that killed her husband, Eddie Briggs of Thief River Falls, in 2011.
The appeals court noted that when Rasicot entered a VFW club to arrest a suspect, his decision to leave his car running violated a Crookston ordinance and police department policy.
Ricardo Mello, 23, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for second-degree murder over the crash that killed Briggs.
In a 2013 report on the lawsuit against Rasicot, the Crookston Times recounted that officers had been responding to reports of suspects pounding on cars and threatening their occupants outside the VFW.
Mello retreated into the club and officers had used pepper spray and a Taser in efforts to subdue him before he came back outside and stole the squad car.
MPR's News Cut blog says under Minnesota law public officials cannot be held personally liable for damages unless they're found to have acted willfully or maliciously. But the court ruled Rasicot should have known that leaving his car unlocked and running violated rules laid out by Crookston and its police department.