Taxpayers in Omaha, Neb., will pay nearly $480,000 in medical bills for a suspect whom police wounded with gunfire after he allegedly shot an officer on Sept. 11, city council members decided this week in a 6-1 vote.
The officers struck suspect John Ezell Jr., 36, multiple times after he fired at Omaha Police Gang Unit Officer Ken Fortune, 42, striking the officer in a shoulder, during a traffic stop in the city, authorities said, according to Omaha's FOX 42.
The officer recovered quickly and was soon released from a hospital, but the suspect spent about a month recuperating, racking up medical bills totaling $479,341.25, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
The city initially agreed to pay half the cost, with Ezell responsible for the remaining $239,670.63. But Tuesday's vote means the city will pick up the suspect's share as well, the newspaper reported.
“I’m sure there’s going to be a number of council members who will hold their nose and vote for it,” City Council President Ben Gray told the paper prior to the vote. “I’m going to be one of them. We’re obligated to do it.”
The city is constitutionally required to provide medical treatment to those who need it while in police custody, Assistant City Attorney Jeff Bloom told the World-Herald. Ezell had no health insurance, and was not covered by Medicaid or Medicare, the report said.
The fact that Ezell was injured by police makes the city liable to cover the costs, Bloom said.
Some city council members were still displeased despite approving Ezell's medical bill.
"I think this is unfathomable that we are doing this," council member Brinker Harding told Omaha's KETV-TV. "I understand we have to do it, but I think this is something we should think of when we're talking with our state senators and working something through the unicameral so situations like this are not at the expense of our taxpayers."
Council member Vinny Palmero, however, cast the lone vote against paying Ezell's medical bill.
"If police are acting within good faith and not in a reckless manner, as this particular case was, then we as a city should not be liable," Palmero told the station.
"If police are acting within good faith and not in a reckless manner, as this particular case was, then we as a city should not be liable."
Ezell, a reputed gang member, has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder, assault on an officer and other charges, according to court records. He was being held on $3 million bail, the World-Herald reported.
Fortune has been with the Omaha Police Department for nearly 11 years, Omaha's WOWT-TV reported.
Council member Chris Jerram asked the city attorney if a civil action could be pursued against Ezell to recover some of the money, KETV reported. The city attorney's office assured Jerram that such an attempt would be made.
Police told the World-Herald that Ezell was drunk when he fired at Fortune during a traffic stop. They said Ezell was a passenger in a vehicle being pursued by police.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.