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Family Sues for Wrongful Death After High School Teen is Killed in Crash Caused by ‘Reckless’ Police Officer  

An Alabama family has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit on behalf of a teen killed in a crash after a police-involved car chase. The officer behind the wheel during the accident had a history of reckless driving before the fatal accident.

The lawsuit was filed in the Circuit Court of Mobile County by Jessica West, the estate of Kenya Marshalette Reed, and all of her heirs on Thursday, July 21. West is the appointed personal representative of the estate, designated to that role on April 19.

The defendants are being sued for negligence, wantonness, recklessness, and maliciousness based on the driving of Officer Joseph Hand. 

In the complaint, the Reed family named the city of Chickasaw and the officer as defendants in the lawsuit. Other unspecified parties are also named as defendants because of their association with the city, police officer, or crash.

On Jan. 10, 2021, the day Reed was killed, former Chickasaw Hand collided with the driver’s side of the McIntosh High School cheerleader and basketball player’s car while she was paused at the intersection of I-65 and West Lee Street at Chickasaw around 7:53 p.m.

The lawsuit, which was announced at a news conference on Thursday, Aug. 4, said Hand was responding to a request for backup from another police agency when he was speeding at a rate of 96 mph in a 30 mph speed zone. 

“While in route to assist the other officer dealing with a disorderly person, Defendant Hand was traveling at an unnecessarily and outrageously high rate of speed, ultimately up to and exceeding 96-m.p.h. in a 30-m.p.h. speed zone on West Lee Street near Interstate 65, just before the crash that is the subject of this matter,” the claim alleges.

It continues to read, “As Officer Hand was recklessly approaching the hilled overpass, Decedent Kenya Reed was exiting the southbound lanes of Interstate 65 on the southbound off-ramp that intersects with West Lee Street.”

“After stopping at the end of the offramp on the west side of Interstate 65, Ms. Reed began to proceed across the westbound lanes of West Lee Street, to turn left onto the eastbound lanes of West Lee Street,” the lawsuit reveals. “Just as she began crossing the westbound lanes of West Lee Street, Officer Hand came over the overpass hill” speeding three times over the limit.

The complaint asserts Reed “had no opportunity to complete her crossing into the eastbound lane of West Lee Street,” before being struck by Hand’s vehicle.

“We understand things happen that we don’t, can’t explain, and we just have to take it with a grain of salt,” West, Reed’s aunt said. “We miss her.”

The Reed family’s lawyer, John Givens of Cochran Firm wrote, “Defendant Hand’s conduct was outrageous under the circumstances with no reasonable justifying basis.” 

Givens said, according to AL.com, “We’re here today and we shouldn’t be, frankly. Driving the way he was driving that day was, frankly, inexcusable.”

The officer, according to the claim, had a history of reckless driving while operating his patrol vehicle, dating long before Reed’s death.

“I can elaborate on that briefly, it’s still early on in the stages of the complaint, the stages of the litigation, and the discovery is ongoing. But there are prior events involving this particular driver in his capacity as a police officer that would leave reasonable minds that would conclude that a, he was not the right person situated for the job or was improperly trained to do so,” Givens said, according to MyNBC15.com. 

In June of 2020, while in a Chickasaw police cruiser, he was in a bad accident. According to the claim, Hand was told to end his pursuit of a suspect near 1-64 and Celeste Road, yielding to an officer from the Saraland Police Department to assume the lead on the chase. 

Hand did not yield to SPD officer Christopher Ramey.

Instead, the lawsuit states, he kept chasing the suspect and crashed into Ramey’s vehicle. An investigation discovered Hand had not used his emergency lights while he was chasing the suspect, the complaint says.

Givens suggests the city is solely responsible for the conduct of its officers and should have been aware of how reckless Hand was when operating police vehicles and took action to better train or stop him from being a “danger to the public at large.”

Because the city was “negligent in its training and instruction of Hand,” his recklessness profoundly impacted Reed, causing severe injuries that led to her death.

Hand originally faced criminal charges for Reed’s death, but the case was dropped in February 2022. A grand jury indicted Hand on misdemeanor criminally negligent homicide charges, but the case fell through because the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office did move swiftly enough to get an indictment.

The DA’s office had to secure the indictment within a year of the Jan. 10, 2021, accident. A judge agreed with Hand’s defense that the prosecution had exceeded the statute of limitations by not securing the indictment on time.

The family is asking for a trial by jury and seeking unspecified damages for the young lady’s wrongful death, costs and expenses associated with the case, and attorney’s fees.

West wanted to know that the teen was more than just an accident victim.

“Kenya was a go-getter. Whatever she set her mind into doing, she did,” West said at news conference last week.

Neither the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office nor the Chickasaw Police Department have released a statement on the lawsuit.

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