Omaha, NE – A known gang member who was shot during the attempted murder of an Omaha police officer will have his medical bills paid for by the city’s taxpayers.
Officer Kenneth Fortune, 42, was shot at point-blank range during the Sept. 11 traffic stop with John Ezell Jr, who was on federal probation for firearm violations, the Omaha Police Department said in a press release at the time.
His fellow officers then opened fire on Ezell, 36, causing non-life threatening injuries.
Investigators later learned that Ezell, who has been charged with three weapons offenses, first-degree assault of an officer, and attempted murder, also had a blood-alcohol content of 0.333 at the time of his arrest, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
He is currently being held on $3 million bail.
Ezell was hospitalized for approximately a month while he was recovering from multiple gunshot wounds, and amassed a medical bill in the amount of $479,421.25.
According to Omaha City Attorney Jeff Bloom, the city is constitutionally mandated to provide medical treatment to suspects in police custody, and Nebraska law requires the city to pay for the cost of those services.
“Since the medical need arose from an incident in which there was a shooting [involving Omaha police], that unfortunately makes us liable,” Bloom explained.
“I’m sure there’s going to be a number of council members who will hold their nose and vote for it,” Omaha City Council President Ben Gray agreed. “I’m going to be one of them. We’re obligated to do it.”
The Nebraska Medical Center agreed to reduce Ezell’s medical bill by half, and the city will use $239,670.63 in property tax funds to cover the expense, Bloom said.
“We try to make this a decent and humane society, and if someone is injured, the person who caused that [the police] should be liable,” University of Nebraska Criminology and Criminal Justice emeritus professor Sam Walker told the Omaha World-Herald.
The incident began at approximately 3:54 p.m., when Officer Fortune and two other Omaha Police Gang Unit officers initiated a traffic stop on a vehicle being driven by 28-year-old Brandon Richey.
Richey pulled over briefly, but took off again as the officers approached his vehicle, and led them on a pursuit along a bustling commercial route in north Omaha, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
When Richey stopped for a red light at 30th Street and Laurel Street, Officer Fortune jumped out of the passenger seat of the patrol vehicle and attempted to deploy Stop Sticks beneath the suspect’s rear tire.
The effort was unsuccessful, and Richey stepped on the gas “for approximately two car lengths” before he stopped again.
“Officer Fortune picked up the Stop Stick and ran to the stopped vehicle and placed it underneath the front passenger tire,” the department said in the press release. “Just as Officer Fortune turned to address the passenger, later identified as John Ezell Jr, the passenger door opened and Ezell pointed a handgun at Officer Fortune.”
“What’s going on?” Ezell asked as he fired his .38 caliber revolver at the officer, according to police.
The round traveled through Officer Fortune’s radio microphone and into his shoulder, knocking him to the ground.
“[Bodycam] footage shows Ezell exit the car and extend his right arm horizontally and fire in the direction of Officer [Jeffrey] Wasmund, who was along the passenger side of the police vehicle. Officer Wasmund was not hit,” the department said in the press release. “As Ezell was shooting at Officer Wasmund, Officers [Christopher] Brown and Wasmund returned fire at Ezell.”
Ezell was hit “multiple times,” and fell to the ground, where he was placed into handcuffs.
His handgun was found approximately three yards away.
Meanwhile, Richey exited his vehicle with his hands raised, and was taken into custody by Officer Fortune.
Richey’s vehicle was still in gear, and rolled approximately 100 yards down 30th Street before it crashed into a tree.
Ezell and Officer Fortune were transported to the University of Nebraska Medical Center by ambulance, and Officer Fortune later underwent surgery, the department said.
All three officers’ bodycams were activated at the time of the altercation.
“Body worn camera footage clearly shows the officers’ use of deadly force to be justified,” Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer told the Omaha World-Herald.
Investigators determined that Ezell fired his weapon at least twice during the incident, according to the agency’s press release. Officer Brown discharged five rounds, and Officer Wasmund fired twice.
“Based upon the review of video evidence, 911 audio and available witness statements, the [officers’] use of deadly force was in accordance with their training,” the department said.
Officer Fortune, an 11-year veteran of the force, has served on the department’s gang unit since 2011.
He has made a full recovery, and returned to work a month after the shooting, KMTV reported.
Officer Brown, 38, has been with the specialized unit since 2010, and joined the force 12 years ago.
Officer Wasmund, 38, is a 13-year veteran of the department, and has served with the unit since 2011.
Ezell served five years in prison for a federal unlawful transport of a firearm conviction, and was released to federal probation in March, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
He also has past convictions for possession of a deadly weapon by a prohibited person and possession of a controlled substance.
Ezell waived his preliminary hearing in November, at which time the attempted murder charge was dropped, WOWT reported.
The charges were amended to attempted assault of a first responder and attempted assault, both of which carry a maximum of 50 years in prison.