Estate of fallen Fla. police officer sues his accused killer for $5M
Jason Raynor died August 17, 55 days after he was shot in the head
By Frank Fernandez
The Daytona Beach News-Journal
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The family of slain Daytona Beach Police Officer Jason Raynor has filed a $5 million wrongful death lawsuit against the man accused of shooting him.
Raynor, 26, was shot in the head on June 23 when he tried to question Othal Wallace, who was sitting in a car parked outside apartments at 133 Kingston Ave., according to a charging affidavit.
"As the direct and proximate result of the intentional conduct of (Wallace), Jason Raynor was wrongfully killed at only twenty-six years of age," the lawsuit states.
"The goal here is obviously to make certain that this individual is held responsible both criminally and civilly," said Geoffrey Bichler, one of the attorneys representing Raynor's estate.
Wallace was arrested June 26 in DeKalb County, Georgia, where a law enforcement task force found him hiding in a treehouse, according to reports.
Wallace is charged with first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer. State Attorney R.J. Larizza's Office said it will seek the death penalty. Wallace has pleaded not guilty.
Raynor died on August 17 at Halifax Health Medical Center 55 days after he was shot.
Funeral services for Raynor were held last week. Hundreds of law officers from across Florida and the country gathered to mourn his passing.
The lawsuit listed as plaintiff Raynor's sister, Melissa Raynor, as personal representative of Raynor's estate, and has been assigned to Circuit Judge Leah Case's docket.
The lawsuit was filed August 20 and lists three counts against Wallace: assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and wrongful death.
The firm of Bichler & Longo in Maitland, which specializes in representing first responders, is representing Raynor's estate in the lawsuit.
Bichler said in a phone interview that he was not aware of another case in which an officer or the estate of an officer who was shot filed a lawsuit against the person accused of shooting the officer.
"I'm not really aware of any cases of that nature and that's why I think this is an important case to bring," Bichler said.
He said there are many cases in which governments pay out "substantial settlements" after being sued over alleged misconduct by police, Bichler said.
"Where as the officers on the other side of the equation, if they are injured or killed, they don't have the potential to make a recovery," Bichler said.
But people accused of injuring or killing police often don't have the money or resources to pay a judgement against them.
He added he wants to bring attention to the dangers faced by police.
"We feel that there should be some recognition of this as we are struggling with this national climate of police reform," Bichler said. "That's part of the reason we want to bring this lawsuit: just to raise awareness of what law enforcement face out there on the street protecting communities."
If the lawsuit is successful, Raynor's estate could seek a judgement against Wallace.
"In the event the individual ever came into money, it would certainly be appropriate to reimburse the estate and make this individual pay for this malicious attack," Bichler said.
The lawsuit states that Raynor was conducting a "lawful traffic stop" on June 23 when Wallace "started a physical altercation" with Raynor and then Wallace "discharged a firearm striking" Raynor in the head.
"As a result, (Raynor) lost his life due to the severity of his injuries. He has lost the capacity for the enjoyment of life, together with the expense of hospitalization, medical and nursing care and treatment, loss of future earnings, and loss of ability to earn money," the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit also states that Wallace's "conduct was intentional and malicious and done for the purpose of causing plaintiff to suffer pain, humiliation, mental anguish, emotional and physical distress."
The estate could go after money raised for Wallace's legal defense, depending on the outcome of the civil suit, Bichler said.
Wallace has supporters online. A group has raised $46,558.55 toward a goal of $150,000 to pay for private attorneys for Wallace, according to a fundraising website.
Wallace is represented by the Public Defenders Office. Wallace filed an affidavit of indigency on July 14 in which he wrote he had zero take home income. Wallace listed $190 in temporary assistance for needy families.
Wallace wrote that he did not have any cash, bank accounts, certificates of deposit or money market accounts. Wallace also wrote he had no equity in any motor vehicles, boats or other tangible property.
Wallace, who has several children, wrote he had five dependents.
Wallace is next scheduled to appear in court for a hearing on Oct. 29.
"Almost ridiculously inadequate"
Bichler said Raynor's medical care would cost the city a substantial amount so it may also want to join the civil lawsuit in case Wallace ever gets any money.
Daytona Beach City Spokeswoman Susan Cerbone wrote in an email that the city is just now receiving bills from medical providers. Cerbone wrote that the city's workers compensation program will pay $1 million in self-insurance coverage before its workers compensation insurance would kick in to pay any remaining bills.
She wrote that the city has budgeted the $1 million in anticipation of the bills.
Bichler said he also wants to call attention to inadequate benefits for first responders, such as firefighters and law enforcement.
Workman's compensation would allow a $150,000 death benefit plus up to $7,500 in funeral expenses for government employees. The death benefit is for a qualifying family member, like a spouse or child. A separate law would allow for up to a $225,000 benefit for first responders who die due to an on duty injury, he said.
"It's just woefully and almost ridiculously inadequate," Bichler said.
"Sometimes bringing cases like this will raise awareness and bring some legislative action." Bichler said.