Police Training Expert Testifies In Injury Trial

December 19, 2018

WILKES-BARRE — A longtime police training expert took the stand Tuesday and testified that two local police departments were justified in continuing a pursuit down city streets that ended with a Swoyersville resident being injured.

Adam Kisthardt, a retired Pennsylvania State Police major who oversaw the Bureau of Training and Education, testified for the defense that Wilkes-Barre and Hanover Twp. police made the right call when they decided to chase 56-year-old Douglas Johnson of Nanticoke, a robbery suspect behind the wheel of a stolen car.

Police blame the crash solely on Johnson, who sped through yards and sidewalks, and went the wrong way on one-way streets before crashing at River and West Market streets in Wilkes-Barre.

“I believe that had Mr. Johnson just simply pulled over, we would not be here today,” Kisthardt testified.

Swoyersville resident Donna Jackson is suing the municipalities over the Nov. 7, 2014, chase, which ended in a crash she alleges caused her traumatic brain injury and other injuries. Last week, an expert retained by plaintiff’s attorney Neil T. O’Donnell testified that the need to immediately capture Johnson was “nowhere near the risk” that the chase posed to the public.

But on Tuesday, the defense sought to counter that with testimony by Kisthardt, who said the police appeared to have been “restrained” and did not follow Johnson through yards and onto sidewalks. And although the chase took place during rush hour, Kisthardt said the records indicate the area was not heavily populated.

“There was nobody there on the sidewalk or in the yard,” Kisthardt said during questioning by attorney James A. Doherty Jr., who represents the Wilkes-Barre Police Department. “And really, what’s the difference between that or if the suspect drove through stop signs? It wasn’t a situation, again, where we had large quantities of people walking down the sidewalk, or heavy traffic.”

Kisthardt also testified that his review of the case indicated the police did not violate any departmental policies and that Wilkes-Barre police Detective Christopher Maciejczyk — who supervised the chase as a sergeant — acted appropriately.

“I think he did make the right balancing decisions,” Kisthardt said.

Earlier Tuesday, Maciejczyk testified his officers were properly trained and he believed it was “absolutely” appropriate to continue the chase despite Johnson’s speeding and reckless driving.

“In this particular situation, I felt the need for immediate apprehension,” Maciejczyk said. “He was a bad guy. He’s on the run and he was going to commit more crimes.”

The defense also sought to challenge the extent of Jackson’s injuries with testimony by Dr. William Prebola of Northeastern Rehabilitation Associates, who examined her for the defense. Prebola testified that while Jackson has arthritis, her neck had a normal range of motion and there was no evidence of a pinched nerve.

“She suffered a soft tissue neck strain,” Prebola said. “It’s not permanent. She had fully recovered from that sprain injury.”

Tesimony continues this morning.

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