Judge partly consolidates 2 lawsuits against Elkhart police

SOUTH BEND — A judge has consolidated the evidence exchange process in two lawsuits against Elkhart police who opened fire on a vehicle in December 2016, killing a man and severely injuring his passenger.

The family of Norman Gary filed a wrongful death lawsuit in district court in November, claiming the 29-year-old’s rights were violated because of a failure by the city and police department to properly train officers. He was shot and killed Dec. 4, 2016, by two Elkhart police officers who were responding to the sound of gunfire in the 1800 block of DeCamp Avenue.

The city and police have denied the claims.

Gary’s passenger, Jazzelyn Crase, filed her own lawsuit in January 2017 against the two officers who opened fire, Nathan Lanzen and Leonard Dolshenko. 

Crase says she was grazed by a bullet across her chest and struck by another bullet in her leg, shattering her femur. She required medical treatment and said she anticipates needing more in the future.

She claims her rights were violated by excessive force and unlawful seizure by Lanzen and Dolshenko, by their indifference to her medical needs after shooting her and by failing in their duty to protect her.

Lawyers for the two officers have denied the allegations. A grand jury decided that no criminal charges would be filed against Lanzen or Dolshenko.

Consolidated for discovery

In March, the defendants in the two lawsuits asked that the cases be consolidated for discovery purposes. They argued that both cases stem from the same incident, involve the same defendants and share the same legal and factual questions. 

Crase agreed with the motion because all the witnesses to be deposed in the two cases are the same, and if the cases aren’t consolidated, witnesses would have to be deposed twice. Lameka Gary, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of her brother, wanted to review the motion before agreeing. 

A district court judge granted the motion, in part, in an April 23 order. U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Gotsch Sr. concluded that there was no objection from any party in the two lawsuits and reasoned that consolidation for discovery purposes won’t prejudice any party while also limiting the burden on them, particularly the defendants.

But he observed that discovery in the Crase case has been ongoing since May 25, 2017, and was closed on March 29, 2019, after several extensions. Discovery in the Gary case only recently began, and currently carries a September 2020 deadline.

Gotsch consolidated the Gary case into the Crase case for discovery purposes only. As a result, discovery deadlines set in the earlier case now apply to the more recent case, meaning discovery has already been closed.

The judge invited the parties to file a joint motion by May 3 if they want to pursue any further discovery.

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