Claiming indifference toward human life, a Hammond man with an irreversible brain injury is suing the Lake County Sheriff’s Department and others for damages after being struck by an officer who ran a red light at an intersection in June 2016.
Carlos Gallegos-Esqueda, through his attorney Brian Custy, claims Lake County Sheriff’s Officer Anibal Ramos’ actions the day of the crash “exhibit a conscious contempt and a reckless and conscious-shocking deliberate indifference to the lives of those around him.”
According to a police report, Ramos told Hammond police he was “in the process of” turning his emergency lights and siren on while “trying to catch up with a possible (drunken) driver” on June 10, 2016, near Columbia Avenue and Gostlin Street in Hammond’s Irving neighborhood.
But Custy alleges no pursuit, nor emergency situation, was taking place when Ramos ran the red light at 50 mph, T-boning his client’s vehicle, according to documents.
Custy said he cannot comment on pending litigation, though he added he looks forward to seeing his client's case "running its course" through the judicial system.
Ramos 'never hit the brakes'
The complaint states Ramos was negligent in that he disregarded the light, traveled at high speeds, and failed to activate his emergency lights and keep a proper lookout before clearing the intersection, among other claims.
“As a direct and proximate result of Ramos’ negligence, Ramos never hit his brakes and plowed into the side of the truck Carlos was driving. Carlos and the truck flipped several times,” according to the complaint.
Gallegos-Esqueda suffered several injuries, including a traumatic brain injury that impairs daily activity, physical pain, mental suffering and loss of enjoyment of life as a result of the crash, the suit states.
Ramos was found at fault by the Lake County Sheriff’s police merit board, which recommended he be suspended for five days and take remedial driver’s training.
However, then-Sheriff John Buncich allowed him to work during his suspension period so that he didn’t lose pay, the suit states.
“This lack of discipline was a pervasive, long-standing custom, policy or practice that has the force of law and was known by (defendants). Each failed as a matter of specific intent or deliberate indifference to stop or correct the custom, policy or practice,” Custy alleges in the suit.
Investigating their own
The suit also raises issue with the Lake County Sheriff’s Department’s alleged practice of taking over wreck investigations involving their own officers.
“The practice … is a pervasive, long-standing custom,” the suit states, noting multiple Lake County officers arrived at the scene of the wreckage. Citing this policy, they're demanding that the investigating agency, the Hammond Police Department, allow them to take over, the suit says.
“Officers of the Hammond Police Department believed that the LCSD wanted to take over the investigation to gain possession of the vehicle Ramos drove so that the black box would not be available to others. Officers of the LCSD also expressed concern at the scene of the wreck that Carlos may pursue a legal action and seek monetary compensation arising from the wreck,” the suit states.
Lt. Steve Kellogg, spokesman for the Hammond Police Department, did not immediately have anyone with knowledge of the crash investigation available for comment Friday.
But Hammond investigators found Ramos' failure to yield and unsafe speeds were factors in the crash.
Attorneys for the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Oscar Martinez and department spokesman Emiliano Perez also did not respond to questions and requests for comment about the lawsuit.
The suit also contends Lake County sheriff’s officers historically have been found at fault in wrecks at higher rates than officers in neighboring counties.
“Despite this knowledge, there were no changes implemented in the inadequate training, supervision or discipline of the LCSD officers. The lack of change or action exhibits a deliberate indifference,” the suit alleges.
Though historically LaPorte and Porter County sheriffs' officers have been found at fault less frequently than Lake County, according to figures provided in 2017 to The Times, it appears Lake County's numbers have improved.
Officers with the Lake County Sheriff's Department were involved in 12 accidents in 2017 and were at fault in seven of the crashes, a department spokesman told The Times in 2017. That's an improvement from 2016, when officers were at fault in 20 of 36 officer-involved crashes in 2016.
Defendants listed in the complaint are Lake County, sheriff’s department, the county Board of Commissioners, along with Buncich, Martinez and Ramos.
The county, its Board of Commissioners and Ramos have filed answers to the complaint, denying any wrongdoing. The case is ongoing in U.S. District Court.