Friday, November 05, 1999

Policemen found not liable in killing

Heirs had claimed lack of diligence

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Two Covington police officers Thursday were relieved of personal liability in the death of a woman killed by her husband. The officers had searched the woman's apartment and failed to find the husband, who allegedly was hiding in the attic.

        Jurors on Thursday cleared officers Derek Brown and Jeff Eldridge of any blame in the 1993 death of Susan Eaton, apparently believing their claims that they checked the door to the attic that day and thought it was secure. Hours later, Davis Eaton came out and killed his wife. The murder took place only 10 hours after she and her two children left a shelter for battered women.

        The officers searched too quickly and haphazardly and therefore should be held financially responsible for Mrs. Eaton's death, attorney Tony Brinker argued unsuccessfully for the children. Mrs. Eaton's two sons, Christopher and James, cried after closing arguments ended Thursday afternoon.

        Jurors first had to decide whether the officers failed to search the apartment with the care expected of an ordinary police officer. But after about two hours of deliberating, they determined the officers did not fail to show ordinary care.

        Once that was decided, jurors could not even consider damages to the family or money the estate and Mrs. Eaton's five children might deserve.

        Lawyers for the children asked for $300,000 apiece for the children, plus $500,000 for Mrs. Eaton's suffering while she was shot and beaten, and another $392,000 for the minimum-wage money she could have earned if she lived.

        Lawyer Steve McMurtry, representing the officers, told jurors he wasn't even sure that Mr. Eaton really was in the attic that day. But that wasn't the point, he said.

        “They did their jobs,” he said. “They did exactly what they were trained to do.”

        Mr. Eaton remains in prison, convicted of his wife's murder. He is not part of the suit, but his lawyer, John Garvey, urged jurors Thursday to side with the officers, saying Mr. Eaton alone was responsible.

        The officers were sued individually. The city and police department were not defendants.


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