CINCINNATI (FOX19) - A Cincinnati police officer whose attorney says he was “brutally attacked” after responding to a call for service at the Westwood YMCA last year has sued the suspect charged with violently assaulting him and the suspect’s mother.
Doug Utecht’s lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, names Durrell Nichols, 25, who weighs 300 pounds and has mental health issues, and Lakisha McMillan, who acts as his primary caretaker which includes ensuring he regularly takes his anti-psychotic medications.
The suit also names “John Does #1-10” who, according to the suit, are third parties unknown at this point to Utecht despite “reasonable efforts to determine their identity (who) may be liable in whole or part” for Utecht’s injuries.
Utecht and several other officers responded to the Gamble-Nippert YMCA on June 6, 2019, after staff reported a man was refusing to leave the gym.
They said they found Nichols acting disorderly and repeatedly tried to get him to leave the gym before attempting to arrest him.
According to the lawsuit, Utecht attempted to de-escalate the situation and calm down Nichols, but he responded violently to Utecht and his partner. Nichols brutally assaulted Utecht, causing serious injuries including lacerations to his face and broken facial bones.
“This officer was grievously injured in the line of duty and he’s got legitimate claims against the people who are responsible," said Utecht’s lawyer, Zach Gottesman of downtown Cincinnati.
"The officer did everything he could to de-escalate the situation and he was brutally attacked. The YMCA video will be available at some point and it will show the brutality of the attack. It is horrifying. The brutality of the attack is horrifying: A 300-pound man beating an unconscious police officer in the face.”
Nichols was arrested and faces several charges: felonious assault, assault, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, criminal trespass, obstructing official business and aggravated robbery, court records show.
He is held at the Hamilton County jail on $150,000 bond.
Last fall, Nichols was determined to be incompetent to stand trial. However, on Jan. 31, he was found competent after undergoing treatment, according to court documents.
The criminal case against him is now moving forward.
Nichols is scheduled to appear before Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Charles Kubicki Jr. at 9 a.m. Thursday to either enter a plea or have his trial date set, court records show.
Nichols’ attorney, John Treleven, released this response to the lawsuit, “I appreciate CPD enacting specific policies to better engage citizens struggling with mental health. I also appreciate the new lawsuit acknowledges this incident stems more from untreated mental health than criminality. But if we continue to use pejorative terms like ‘thug’ when discussing matters involving mental health, we only further marginalize the most vulnerable of our citizens. I will reserve my comments to the facts of this case for the Courts, as my work is not Facebook driven.”
As a direct result of the attack, Utecht suffered "extreme pain and suffering and will have permanent scarring and disfigurement from the injuries, the suit alleges.
The officer also incurred “economic damages including lost wages, past medical expenses and will incur future medical expenses in an amount that cannot yet be determined.”
Utecht’s lawsuit accuses Nichols of failing to follow his prescription medication regimen to prevent psychotic episodes. It also says he knew or he should have known he presented a risk to of harm to others if he failed to follow it.
His mother, the suit goes on to allege, failed to monitor her son’s mental health status or to ensure he regularly took his anti-psychotic medications despite knowing he presented a risk to himself and others during psychotic episodes.
After her son was arrested, McMillan “knowingly made a series of false and defamatory statements" about the officer and his conduct as a police officer which she intended to cause Utecht professional and reputational harm, according to the suit.
It demands a jury trial and damages in excess of more than $25,000, legal costs, attorneys fees, and “such other relief” the court deems.
Utecht and two other officers, Andrew Snape and Joshua Wallet, are now under investigation by Cincinnati’s Citizen Complaint Authority (CCA) after a citizen at the YMCA levied an excessive force complaint`.
The complaint, filed by “Miss McMillan,” Utecht’s attorney tells FOX19 NOW, alleges Nicholas was at the YMCA playing basketball and for unknown reasons, YMCA management told him to leave. He didn’t understand why he had to leave and when the officers arrived they didn’t attempt to speak to him or de-escalate the situation, the complaint states.
Instead, the complaint goes on to allege, according to Gottesman, Utecht punched Nichols from behind and tried to choke him. Because he couldn’t breathe he had to fight back. They used excessive force, they pressed excessive criminal charges against him and never read him his rights.
Gottesman said: “The complaint is obviously false and the officers’ body camera footage makes clear that what the complainant said occurred is complete fiction.”
CCA operates independently from the Cincinnati Police Department and reviews allegations of police misconduct and incidents. It conducts its own investigations into police use of force and reports its findings to the city manager.
The police union president has argued the officers should not be investigated by the complaint board until the criminal case against Nichols wraps up.
He has stressed he is not against oversight but said testifying before the complaint board could jeopardize the criminal case.
The issue has been a controversial one for years.
In 2018, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters asked the court to block the CCA from interviewing police about their exchange of gunfire with a suspect before the man’s related criminal case was resolved.
Prosecutors sought the permanent injunction, saying if police were made to answer questions by the CCA, it could divulge information about confidential informants and reveal the state’s court case to the defense through a transcript of the interview.
A judge granted the permanent injunction, but an appeals court late last year determined the civilian oversight board should not be prohibited from interviewing police during an ongoing criminal investigation.
First District Court of Appeals Judge Pierre Bergeron wrote in the decision: “The trial court granted a permanent, and sweeping, injunction, but it did so while skipping a critical step. ... It never determined that the state had prevailed on its claim. A party cannot secure a permanent injunction without winning the underlying lawsuit. Equally important, the state failed to adduce clear and convincing evidence of irreparable harm.”
Supporters of CCA applauded the decision at the time, saying it delayed prompt investigation of officers’ actions and was used to try to circumvent a process put into place nearly 20 years ago.
CCA resulted from the city’s landmark 2002 Collaborative Agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, the cornerstone of the post-2001 riot police reforms to try to improve relations between the police force and the Cincinnati community it serves.