LISBON - The county's insurance carrier recently provided a cash settlement to a New Waterford-area family after they claimed an errant shot fired by a sheriff's deputy grazed their son's leg.
The insurance carrier - CORSA, for County Risk Sharing Authority - paid an undisclosed sum to the family after their attorney threatened to sue the Columbiana County Sheriff's Office over the Aug. 17, 2011, incident. The mother of the boy said they were paid less than $50,000, with the check arriving in September.
According to reports, deputies were responding to a domestic dispute at a Macklin Road residence just after midnight, and Sgt. Tom Foley was inside the residence interviewing witnesses when he heard three gunshots. Foley went outside and found Deputy Jon Price with his handgun drawn, and Price told him he fired at a dog that had charged him.
Behind the dog was the 17-year-old boy who lived there, and he said he had been struck in the leg. The boy told Foley he was chasing the dog after it escaped from the house when shots were fired, and he felt something strike him in the leg. The boy pulled down his pants to reveal a small red mark on his thigh.
Foley reported he also saw that Price had his weapon trained on the people from the house who also ran outside to see what was going on, and Price was ordering them to stay back. Foley told Price to put the gun back in his holster, which he did.
Price said he arrived at the residence after Foley and was walking toward the front door when he saw a person and a snarling dog coming from around the back of the house. Price said the dog lunged at him, which is when he pulled his firearm and fired. The dog was uninjured.
Lt. Brian McLaughlin conducted an internal investigation and he found two holes in the ground where the boy said Price was standing when the dog charged him and two "dings" in a car and a hole in the fender.
"After seeing the scene and looking at the pictures of the vehicle as it was that night (of) the incident, it appears that two of the three shots were fired at an extreme downward angle, with a third shot probably fired a bit more outward," McLaughlin wrote, adding the boy's injury was caused by a bullet fragment or something the bullet struck.
Based on the internal investigation, Chief Deputy Allen Haueter concluded that Price was justified for shooting at the dog and that the shots were fired in a downward direction.
Sheriff Ray Stone concurred with Haueter's ruling, and he said they were never able to determine whether the boy's thigh was grazed by a bullet or rocks shattered by the bullet. "We're not sure what struck the car," he added.
The county also paid $764 for repairs to the car.
The conclusion was disputed by Boardman attorney Edward Hartwig, who was retained by the family and threatened to sue the county. Hartwig said in a letter to the county that his investigation revealed five shots were fired in the direction of the boy and that he was grazed by one of the shots. He also claimed photographs clearly show that bullets penetrated the car, which debunks the theory that the shots were fired in a downward direction.
"The investigation was clearly self-serving, inadequate and inaccurate. My client has suffered serious emotional distress as a result of this incident. He has been reliving the incident over and over and has experienced nightmares and flashbacks," Hartwig concluded.
Assistant County Prosecutor Tad Herold said CORSA made the decision on its own to settle with the family before Hartwig filed a lawsuit. He said a CORSA representative advised him in late July they were probably going to settle for some amount, with no admission of guilt on the county's part.
"I think the decision to settle was largely one of economics. It would probably cost more to have fought the claim (in court)," Herold said.
Since the department reached the conclusion Price was shooting at the dog to protect himself, no disciplinary action was taken, although he was required to undergo additional firearms training.
The initial sheriff's report of the incident that was published in the Morning Journal at the time referred only to the domestic dispute, and made no mention of any weapons being fired by a deputy.