$2.5 million settlement reached in Sikon wrongful death lawsuit

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By Carol McIntire, Editor

A $2.5 million settlement has been reached in a 2020 lawsuit filed by the family of the late Robert S. (Bobby) Sikon, III against Carroll County, Sheriff Dale Williams (now deceased) and Deputy Jacob Baker.

Baker, in his capacity as a deputy sheriff, shot Sikon four times in the back Nov. 16, 2019, in New Harrisburg during a traffic stop. Sikon was transported by ambulance to a Canton hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The lawsuit was filed in Federal District Court March 30, 2020, by Robert Sikon (Bobby’s father), co-administrator of the estate of Robert S. (Bobby) Sikon, III and Bobby’s oldest daughter, Melissa Ford, also a co-administrator.

The suit alleged four claims against Baker: excessive use of force in violation of the Fourth Amendment, assault and battery, wrongful death and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The case was assigned to Judge Sara Lioi.
The federal district court case was stayed Aug. 18, 2020, pending resolution of a criminal case filed against Baker in Carroll County Common Pleas Court.
Baker was found not guilty of voluntary manslaughter during a weeklong jury trial in July 2021.
The civil case resumed in September 2021 and was extensive.

The settlement was reached two weeks before a jury trial was scheduled to begin on July 31, 2023.
According to the statement in support of the settlement filed by Jeremy A. Tor of the law firm Spangenbert Shibley and Liber, LLP, the case involved the exchange of numerous dockets, 15 depositions, eight expert witness reports and multiple inspections of real evidence at the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. The case docket includes a list of 124 entries.
Baker filed a motion for summary judgment Feb. 28, 2023, as to all claims against him, contending the plaintiffs did not establish the merits of each claim and/or citing qualified immunity under both federal and state law.

Judge Lioi filed a memorandum opinion and order June 30 on Baker’s motion, granting it in part and denying it in part, writing the case would proceed on the claims of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment, assault and battery and wrongful death, but not intentional infliction of emotional distress.
In her opinion, Lioi wrote, “What happened Nov. 16, 2019, after Baker initiated a traffic stop on a pickup truck in which Bobby Sikon was a passenger is largely disputed by the parties.
“It is, however, undisputed that Deputy Baker attempted to arrest Sikon, a struggle ensued outside of the pickup truck, the two men separated and Sikon took at least a few steps away from Deputy Baker, after which Deputy Baker shot Sikon, claiming he thought Sikon was pulling a gun in Deputy Baker’s direction. Sikon was, in fact, unarmed.”

Lioi found that Baker is not entitled to statutory immunity under Ohio Law, writing he is not entitled to statutory immunity under Ohio law.
Under the claim of excessive force, Lioi wrote that Baker contended his use of deadly force against Sikon was objectively reasonable because he “believed Sikon was reaching to draw a weapon and shoot him.”
But Lioi noted there is evidence in the record (dispositions, BCI evidence) from which a jury could find that events transpired differently than as described by Deputy Baker. She noted the court just view that evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs.
One piece of that evidence was that expert witness Christopher Fries opined Sikon had his back to Baker at the time he was shot four times, and had a rotation of 0 degrees for at least one shot, and a maximum of 35 degrees for the other shots (nine shots were fired, four of which struck Sikon in the back), which contradicts Baker’s contention that Sikon was turning around and almost completely sideways when Baker began to shoot. The opinion also noted one of Baker’s own expert witnesses opined that a possible graze wound on Sikon’s hip would suggest that, at most, Sikon was “a little bit bladed to the right” but not close to a full turn as Deputy Baker demonstrated during a deposition video.

Fries also opined that forensic evidence suggests Sikon was 24 to 36 feet away from Baker when he was shot. Baker’s expert witness (Alexander Jason) acknowledged Sikon could have been 26 feet away from Baker when he was shot. If believed, the judge wrote, this would contradict Baker’s testimony that Sikon was only a few steps away when he turned towards Baker and Baker started to shoot.
After citing several legal cases, the judge wrote that, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, a jury could find Baker shot Sikon four times in the back while Sikon was unarmed and attempting to evade arrest for non-violent crimes without posing any risk of immediate harm to Baker. She noted, while Baker’s testimony and theories may be true, that was for a jury to decide.
The court denied Baker’s motion for summary judgment on the claim of assault and battery and wrongful death and granted his motion on the claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress and dismissed the claim and ruled the case would move forward to trial on the claims of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment, assault and battery and wrongful death.
The trial was canceled when the settlement agreement was reached.
Carroll County Commissioner President Chris Modranski told The Messenger, “Typically, the county’s responsibility on insurance claims is a $2,500 deductible payment, the county has not yet been billed. We haven’t been billed, but we anticipate we will be,” Modranski said.
The Sikon family was represented by attorneys from Spangenberg, Shibley & Liber of Cleveland and the county was represented by Mazanec, Raskin & Ryder of Cleveland through the County Commissioners Association of Ohio (CCAO).
The Messenger contacted attorneys from both firms asking for comments, but neither returned the phone call.

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