Wrongful death lawsuit dismissed against Dayton police officers from June 2022 incident

A Montgomery County judge has dismissed a civil lawsuit against two Dayton police officers that claimed they negligently failed to perform their duties, resulting in the preventable deaths of Aisha Nelson, 31, and her 6-year-old daughter, Harper Guynn.

The lawsuit also originally named the city of Dayton, the Dayton Police Department, the city commission and Dayton’s police chief as defendants, but the plaintiffs dismissed the claims against those parties earlier this year.

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Steven Dankof late last month ruled that under Ohio law Dayton police officers Katheryn Santos and Terrell Moore had no duty to control the conduct of Waverly “Dante” Hawes, who shot and killed Nelson and Harper nearly a year ago. Hawes was Nelson’s boyfriend.

The officers spoke with Nelson and Hawes at her West Dayton home shortly before Hawes killed her and her daughter. Nelson told the officers that Hawes threatened her and had a firearm in the home.

The lawsuit, filed by the administrator of Nelson’s and Guynn’s estate, accused the officers of dereliction of duty because they did not arrest or remove Hawes.

But Dankof ruled that the plaintiffs failed to point to any duty the officers had in this case that was expressly imposed by law.

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Dankof granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss the civil complaint.

Nelson and Harper were shot and killed sometime between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. on June 23, 2022, by Hawes at a home on Burleigh Avenue in West Dayton. Hawes fled the scene but afterward shot and killed himself.

Santos and Moore met with and interviewed Hawes and Nelson at the Burleigh Avenue home shortly before the shooting.

Nelson told the officers that Hawes had threatened her and he had a gun in the house. The officers left the home at about 2:35 a.m.

The lawsuit accused the officers of filing to follow the police department’s protocol regarding domestic violence incidents, such as by arresting or removing the aggressor.

The civil complaint states that Nelson told officers that Hawes had cut up her credit cards and emptied her accounts, leaving her with nowhere to go. The lawsuit says Nelson asked the police officers remove Hawes multiple times, but they did not.

In a memo in support of a motion to dismiss the complaint, an attorney for Santos and Moore said the officers did not have a duty to arrest Hawes based on any legal statute.

Threats of violence are insufficient to trigger a mandatory duty to arrest, the memo states.

“Ohio law only imposes a duty to protect one from the violent, criminal conduct of a third person when a special relationship exists between the victim and the protector, or between the assailant and the protector,” the memo states. “Hawes was not in police custody when he shot and killed Nelson and Guynn, so there was no special relationship and thus no duty to control his conduct.”

Moore and Santos were suspended without pay for 160 hours, and they received reprimands and were directed to undergo domestic violence and tactical training, the police department said.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs and the city did not return requests for comment. An attorney for the officers declined to comment.

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