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Youngstown pays over response by police

YOUNGSTOWN — The city’s insurance company has settled a lawsuit filed by the estate of a woman murdered by her husband in Youngstown in February 2019.

Mahoning County Probate Judge Robert Rusu on May 24 approved the $300,000 payout from the city and $2,000 from a Youngstown tavern to the estate of Ryan Weaver-Hymes.

Because the matter was handled by the city’s insurance company, the city paid only the $50,000 deductible and $59,000 of other settlement expenses, Law Director Jeff Limbian told Youngstown City Council’s finance committee last week.

LaDawnda Smith, administratrix of Weaver-Hymes’ estate, filed the suit against the city, three Youngstown police officers, two Youngstown police dispatching employees and Topsy’s Lounge on Logan Avenue.

The suit alleged the police department was reckless for failing to arrest Jason Hymes after police were called to the Hymes home on Alameda Avenue on the North Side the first time Feb. 13, 2019. It alleged dispatching personnel were reckless for not dispatching police a second time.

It alleged Topsy’s served alcohol to Jason Hymes despite him being “noticeably intoxicated,” and his intoxication “fueled his rage” toward his wife, 38.

Jason Hymes, now 49, was sentenced to 23 years to life in prison Oct. 24, 2019, after a jury found him guilty of aggravated murder and other offenses in his wife’s death.

During the trial, Assistant Prosecutor Jennifer McLaughlin told jurors that Ryan Hymes’ 13-year-old daughter heard an argument in the basement of the Alameda Avenue home and then saw Hymes punch her mother. The girl left the home to call 911 shortly after midnight Feb. 14.

Prosecutors also showed a surveillance video from outside of Topsy’s about 10 p.m. Feb. 13 showing Jason Hymes punching his wife twice and banging her head against the side of Jason Hymes’ pickup truck, according to Vindicator files.

Ryan Weaver-Hymes died Feb. 15 from brain injuries caused by severe head trauma.

SUIT AND SETTLEMENT

The lawsuit focused on the actions of police officers and 911 center employees the two times Weaver-Hymes’ daughter called 911 asking for help.

The suit called Weaver-Hymes’ death “tragic and avoidable,” saying that when police were called to the Alameda home the first time at 10:17 p.m., Weaver-Hymes was “visibly beaten and disheveled.” There was blood splattered on the side and inside of the truck in her driveway, but officers “did nothing to stop the beating and were on the scene for just four minutes before clearing the call.”

The suit stated that “minutes after police departed,” at 10:36 p.m., Weaver-Hymes’ daughter called 911 again “to report that Jason had resumed beating her mother and asked police to return. Despite this, police and dispatchers deliberately chose not to send officers back to Ryan’s home. Left alone and without further police intervention, Jason Hymes continued beating Ryan, inflicting the injuries from which she would die,” the suit stated.

A female dispatcher took the second 911 call and intended to dispatch officers again, but either dispatching supervisor Richard Kennedy or officer / dispatcher Carlos Rivera Jr. “or both of them intervened to prevent her from doing so, instructing (the female dispatcher) it is not illegal for people to argue,” the suit alleged.

Between 10:51 p.m. and midnight, Jason Hymes called his brother, leading to a 911 call from his brother’s wife indicating that Weaver-Hymes was now unresponsive, the suit states. An ambulance took Weaver-Hymes to the hospital. Officers took Jason Hymes to the police station for questioning, later arresting him.

The lawsuit was filed in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court in November 2020 and dismissed because of the settlement Sept. 23, 2021.

James Climer, one of the attorneys representing the city, said the settlement “is not an acknowledgment of any liability on anyone’s behalf. But other than that, I have no comment.”

A call to an attorney for the estate, Nomiki Tsarnas of Poland, was not returned.

FEDERAL CASE

The estate also filed a $5 million federal civil rights lawsuit against many of the same defendants and with similar allegations. Federal Judge Patricia Gaughan in Cleveland issued an October 2020 ruling finding that Kennedy and Rivera had not violated Weaver-Homes’ due-process rights when they instructed the female call operator not to dispatch officers to the Alameda address the second time.

Gaughan’s ruling stated that the due-process clause “does not impose on the state an affirmative duty to protect individuals against private acts of violence.” There are exceptions, such as when a person is in police custody, but this lawsuit “fails to properly allege” that Kennedy and or Rivera’s actions were “an affirmative act” “that created or increased the risk of harm.”

The ruling stated that while Weaver-Hymes’ death was “undeniably tragic, (Kennedy and Rivera) did not create the dangerous situation Weaver-Hymes was in. Rather, they failed to dispatch police officers to the residence after the second 911 call.”

The ruling stated that “It is possible that Weaver-Hymes’ death may have been prevented had (Kennedy and Rivera) allowed police officers to be sent to the residence a second time. However, this arguably poor response to the 911 call did not create the risk of harm which ultimately killed Weaver-Hymes.”

The judge likewise found that the patrol officers did not violate Weaver-Hymes’ constitutional rights by not arresting Jason Hymes the first time they were called to the Hymes residence.

The federal lawsuit also alleged that the city failed to properly train the personnel involved in the incident and failed to discipline them for failing to comply with its domestic-violence response policy. But when that type of allegation is made, there must be a showing that the city showed “deliberate indifference to constitutional rights,” Gaughan ruled.

She added there “is no clearly established right to have a police officer dispatched in response to a 911 call. Therefore, it cannot be said that the City of Youngstown was deliberately indifferent to a potential constitutional violation.”

Of the $302,000 settlement, $50,000 was assigned to Weaver-Hymes’ estate, $120,000 goes to legal fees to Kisling, Nestico & Redick with some held back for a civil suit in common pleas court still pending against Jason Hymes, and about $100,000 to Weaver-Hymes’ daughter; Smith, who is Weaver-Hymes’ sister; and Weaver-Hymes’ father. There also were expenses incurred by the lawsuits and money owed to the state of Ohio.

erunyan@vindy.com

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