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Published: Friday, 1/1/2010

Lima to pay $2.5M to family of victim of '08 police shooting

BLADE STAFF

LIMA, Ohio - The family of a 26-year-old mother who was shot and killed during a police raid of her Lima home in 2008 will receive $2.5 million from the city's insurance company as a result of a negotiated settlement announced yesterday.

Tarika Wilson's family filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Toledo against the City of Lima and Sgt. Joseph Chavalia in August, 2008, claiming wrongful death and negligence. The unarmed woman was holding her 1-year-old son when she was shot and killed Jan. 4, 2008, during a police drug raid of her home.

Her son, Sincere Wilson, was injured during the incident and had to have his right index finger amputated.

Yesterday, attorneys for both the family and the city said a settlement was reached out of court. The settlement will be filed with the federal court within the next few weeks, said attorney Al Gerhardstein, who represented Tarika Wilson's six children and her mother, Darla Jennings.

"This is a family that has a lot of needs," Mr. Gerhardstein said. "They have the opportunityto take these resources and secure annuities to help these children get the care and education they need for the future, which is critical."

Ms. Jennings, who has since cared for five of her daughter's children, could not be reached for comment. Mr. Gerhardstein said it is an emotional time of year for Ms. Jennings, who is nearing the second anniversary of her daughter's death.

Tony Geiger, the city's law director, said the settlement contains no admission of liability on the parts of the city or Sergeant Chavalia. The city continues to deny liability and believes the sergeant "acted appropriately based on the circumstances he confronted," he said.

Mr. Geiger said the settlement was reached Wednesday through attorneys for the city's insurance carrier, Hylant Group. The carrier has legal authority to settle the case without the city's consent, and the city by contract must cooperate, he said.

Chavalia Chavalia
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"The city's insurance company made the decision that it was better to reach a settlement at this time than to pursue litigation," the law director said. "We were aware of the discussions, but it's ultimately their money and it's their decision."

Yet for Jason Upthegrove, president of the Lima chapter of NAACP, the city's settlement is tantamount to an admission of guilt.

"No one pays out $2.5 million unless they're guilty," Mr. Upthegrove said. "They're saying he's responsible for killing her, and they're saying it 2 1/2 million times."

"They can spin it any way they want to, but that is the sentiment of most reasonable thinking people," he added.

Lima Police say on the night of the shooting, the department's SWAT team executed a search warrant at Wilson's East Third Street home following a long-term drug investigation. The target of the search was Wilson's boyfriend, Anthony Terry.

During what authorities termed a "high-risk search warrant," Wilson and her son were shot.

Sergeant Chavalia was subsequently indicted on misdemeanor criminal charges. In August, 2008, the officer was acquitted on charges that alleged negligence when he fired at Wilson and her son.

On the witness stand, Sergeant Chavalia recounted seeing a shadowy figure duck in and out of a bedroom door at the same time he heard gunfire and believed that he was being fired upon. But the gunfire actually happened downstairs when officers shot two "pit bull" dogs.

The shooting and Sergeant Chavalia's acquittal sparked outrage among the city's black population. Yesterday, Mr. Gerhardstein said that as part of the settlement, the city will continue to work with the community to ensure that the police department follows "best practices."

Mr. Geiger added the city will continue to work with the "community and consultants" to review its police department's policies and procedures to promote the improvement of police-community relations.

Mr. Geiger said no money from the city's coffers will be used for the settlement. Lima's insurance rates could increase because of the payout, though the city is locked in to its current rate until the summer of 2012.

"We'll have to wait and see," Mr. Geiger said of the potential after-effect.

Mr. Gerhardstein said yesterday the settlement money will be put into a "qualified settlement fund" while the Allen County Probate Court determines how best to proceed with Wilson's estate. He added that no money would be distributed without the approval of probate court.

This report was written by staff writers Erica Blake and JC Reindl.



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