Family takes step toward lawsuit against Town of Nashville

An attorney for the family of the Hope motorcyclist who died after a high-speed pursuit by an off-duty reserve Nashville police officer has filed notice of the family’s intent to sue the town of Nashville.

Merrillville attorney Trent McCain filed the tort claim for personal injury in the death of 18-year-old Xavier Scrogham with the town Friday on behalf of the teen’s parents, Kalvyn Johnson-Bey and Carleen Scrogham.

The filing came within a day of the release of dash-camera video that shows then-Nashville reserve officer Leonard Burch initiating a high-speed chase in a marked Nashville police car at about 11:36 p.m. Aug. 29 on U.S. 31 near Lowell Road.

In a 911 cellphone call with Bartholomew County emergency dispatchers, Burch said Scrogham passed him going 120 mph. However, Burch later told Bartholomew County Sheriff’s detectives that Scrogham did not have a plate on his motorcycle and sped away from him when Burch attempted to stop him.

Describing Burch’s pursuit of Scrogham as that of a “power drunk cowboy,” McCain said if a lawsuit is eventually filed against the town, it also will name and include Burch as a defendant because he was employed by the town at the time of the chase. Burch, 25, Columbus, was placed on administrative leave after the chase and resigned from the department Sept. 1, Nashville Police Chief Ben Seastrom said.

McCain said Scrogham’s family watched the chase video.

“It’s heartbreaking to see the last moments of a loved one’s life play out like that,” the attorney said.

“Social media is saying Xavier was getting what he deserved because he was speeding,” McCain said of some public reaction to the incident.

But as a parent who tells his own child what to do all the time, McCain said parents know that children do not always do what a parent says.

“He was 18 years old, and he made a mistake,” McCain said. “He should not have done what he did. But he was chased by a young man in a T-shirt and shorts in a police car for 20 miles out of the officer’s jurisdiction.”

Scrogham was riding his motorcycle on U.S. 31 southbound toward Columbus when Burch initiated a high-speed chase which continued through the city into the eastern part of Bartholomew County, Bartholomew County Sheriff’s deputies said.

Burch lost sight of the motorcyclist at County Road 650E and 25th Street, a short distance from where¬†Scrogham’s body was found in a field on Sunland Road. Investigators said Scrogham missed a 90-degree turn and hit a telephone pole guide wire, which knocked off his helmet and threw him from the motorcycle.

Bartholomew County Coroner Larry Fisher said Scrogham died at the scene of the accident from head and neck trauma.

Andy Szakaly, Nashville town attorney, said the town had not received notice of the tort claim and did not have any comment about it.

He said the town will follow the statutory requirements for handling tort claims, which are defined as a preliminary notice to a governmental agency about a possible lawsuit.

McCain explained that potential plaintiffs in a lawsuit are required to give governmental entities such as a town, county or police agency notice within 180 days of an incident that a lawsuit could be filed.

The government agency then has 90 days to respond, whether denying or accepting the claim. If there is no response, the claim is deemed denied, McCain said.

After that, the plaintiff has a two-year window of time to file a lawsuit, McCain said.

Whether a lawsuit is filed will depend on the evidence from the investigation, which is still underway by the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department,¬†McCain said.

“We still have a choice to walk away if something comes up in the investigation,” McCain said.

About the tort claim

A tort claim for personal injury was filed by Merrillville attorney Trent McCain on behalf of the family of Xavier Scrogham on Friday.

The claim is:

  • Filed against the town of Nashville
  • Seeking the maximum amount recoverable by law
  • Mentions Leonard Burch, a former Nashville reserve police officer, as a person involved.
  • Alleges negligence, negligent entrustment, negligent hiring, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress and wrongful death.
  • Demands that the police cruiser driven by Burch in the high-speed chase be impounded for forensic analysis at a later date.

What's next

Bartholomew County Sheriff’s detectives said they plan to turn over their investigation into the high-speed chase initiated by off-duty Nashville reserve officer Leonard Burch to the Bartholomew County Prosecutor’s Office by the middle of next week.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.