Attorney Noel Sevastianos of Rogers Sevastianos and Bante, LLP recently won a wrongful death lawsuit in Missouri for the parents of Brian Strothkamp Jr., who lost their son due to the fatal injuries he sustained as a result of his attempt to escape police custody.
In 2015, Brian Strothkamp Jr. was arrested by the City of Overland’s police department. After holding Strothkamp overnight, the City planned to move him from an Overland holding cell to the St. Louis County jailhouse in Clayton. During that trip to Clayton, Brian discovered that he could escape from the vehicle through either the rear window or the rear door. As the police car traveled along I-170, Brian exited the vehicle and suffered fatal injuries. He died shortly after.
The Family Looks for Help
The Strothkamp family believed that something was wrong, so they spoke with lawyers who might be willing to investigate whether the City had adequately protected their son. Several lawyers turned the case down because:
(1) it was obvious that the case would require extensive litigation and they were not able to invest the time that such litigation requires;
(2) there was a respectable chance that the case might get thrown out of court before it could be delivered to a jury;
(3) even if the case could be presented to a jury, that same jury was very likely to find that Brian caused his own injuries by jumping out of a moving vehicle on the highway; and finally
(4) any recovery the family received from a jury or by settlement was not likely to be significant.
While other lawyers declined to help, Sevastianos and the firm of Rogers Sevastianos and Bante, LLP took on the case and its challenges for the parents. Sevastianos said that he simply believes that the City was obligated to protect Brian and that Brian should’ve never had the opportunity to escape in the first place.
What the Investigation Uncovered
The investigation of the matter proved Sevastianos and the Strothkamp family to be correct. Investigations revealed that the City’s police officer, James Holifield, failed to follow three established safety protocols designed to protect prisoners like Brian.
Each of these safety protocols were signed into place by the City’s Chief of Police, and Holifield—in full awareness of these protocols—still failed to:
- Secure Brian with a safety belt;
- Make sure the rear safety/childproof locks on the rear doors of the patrol car were engaged; and
- Disengage the controls to the rear windows.
These failures made it possible for Strothkamp to exit the vehicle while on I-170 near Page Boulevard, resulting in his tragic death.
Investigations also uncovered that the City only gave Holifield a “verbal warning” for his failure to secure the safety belt—omitting his other failures—and concluded that even if the safety belt was secured, Brian would have been able to escape.
Sevastianos Challenges the City
Sevastianos challenged the City’s conclusions and the hypocrisy of them. He established that the City never even bothered to investigate key pieces of evidence, like whether the rear window controls were disengaged in accordance with the City’s own safety protocol.
He argued that a simple flip of the rear safety door locks would have kept Brian safe. These safety protocols were written to protect those in custody and the general public.
Sevastianos also conducted several focus groups so he would know what a St. Louis County jury was likely to think of the incident. For instance:
- Would it assess blame to Brian for his death?
- If so, how much fault would be his versus the City’s and/or its police officer?
- How much compensation, if any, might such a jury award in a case like this given Brian’s past and his future prospects?
The Case is Settled
When the opportunity to settle this case for $90,000 was made, the family decided to accept it rather than endure a trial and the threat of an appeal of a higher verdict.
When contacted by reporter Joel Currier of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Sevastianos said that the result makes it clear that “when the city accepts someone into its custody, it is obligated to protect that person for his safety and the safety of the community.”
As the family’s attorney, Sevastianos simply helped ensure they were compensated to the fullest extent possible. The money ordered to be paid is to compensate the parents for the monetary and emotional costs associated with the loss of their son. As Sevastianos said to the Post Dispatch, “Compensation in such cases is never sufficient but allows closure and some measure of peace for all involved.”
The firm congratulates Noel Sevastianos for successfully settling this difficult and challenging case when others would not.