The city of Albuquerque will pay $8.5 million to settle a lawsuit filed on behalf of Ashley Browder, 21, killed in a 2013 crash caused by off-duty Albuquerque Police Sgt. Adam Casaus, who was speeding and ran a red light.
The settlement is believed to be the largest ever paid out by the city in a wrongful death/personal injury case, according to a statement released Friday afternoon by attorneys Brian K. Branch and Sean P. McAfee, who represent the Browder family.
The crash, which occurred about 1:30 a.m. on Feb. 10, 2013, at the intersection of Paseo del Norte and Eagle Ranch NW, also seriously injured Ashley’s sister, Lindsay Browder, 19.
As part of the settlement, the city also agreed to implement new measures in police training and oversight, which were essential to the Browder family’s agreement to resolve their claims against the city, Branch said.
Ashley’s and Lindsay’s parents, Chuck and Donna Browder, were parties to the lawsuit, which was scheduled to go to trial in federal court later this year.
A statement from the family relayed through their attorneys said: “Obviously, no amount of money will ever bring Ashley back to us. What made this settlement possible was the city’s willingness to take steps to ensure its police officers never forget who they serve, and keep the safety of the public as their reason for every action they undertake. This must never happen, ever again.”
City Attorney Jessica Hernandez on Friday also issued a statement, saying, “It is the city’s hope that this settlement will help give the Browder family and the community some sense of closure. Nothing can undo the damage caused to the Browder family. However, we will work in partnership with the Browder family to honor Ashley’s memory and provide additional training to APD officers to reduce the likelihood of a tragedy like this from occurring again.”
Non-monetary relief agreed to by the city and Browder family includes:
• Incorporating additional training to warn APD cadets and officers of the tragic results that can occur from an officer’s driving conduct;
• Honoring Ashley Browder’s memory with plaques to be placed in the main APD headquarters and in each substation;
• Placement on each marked APD vehicle with a “How’s My Driving” bumper sticker containing the 311 information phone number, where concerned citizens can report improper driving; and
• APD’s establishment of a memorial run for cadets and other APD personnel in honor of the Browder sisters, and a specification that the run include the crash site.
Casaus was in uniform and driving his city-issued police car on Paseo del Norte at the time of the crash, police said. An investigation found that he had driven 8.8 miles across town in less than eight minutes.
His emergency lights were on and his foot was on the accelerator when his westbound vehicle, traveling in excess of 60 mph, blew through the intersection, striking the Browder vehicle, which was northbound on Eagle Ranch and had a green light.
Ashley Browder, sitting in the front passenger seat, died at the scene. Lindsay Browder, who was driving, was seriously injured.
Casaus initially told investigators he had been chasing a vehicle he suspected of “dangerous driving” on Paseo del Norte; however, several eye witnesses to the crash said no other vehicle had preceded Casaus into the intersection.
Casaus was criminally charged on April 9, 2013, with vehicular homicide resulting in death and great bodily injury by vehicle.
In September 2014, he was found guilty of careless driving and sentenced to the maximum time for the crime – 90 days in jail. Casaus’ law enforcement certification was also revoked by the Law Enforcement Academy.
A federal judge ruled that city officials and Albuquerque police were “at least grossly negligent” when they failed to hold onto the work cellphone used by Casaus the night of the crash, despite a formal letter from a Browder family attorney demanding the city keep all evidence – especially the cellphone – in anticipation of a civil lawsuit. The phone was wiped clean and recycled one month after the criminal case against Casaus concluded in February 2015.