Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly listed the name of one of the cross streets where the crash occurred. It happened at Portsmouth Boulevard.
PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The City of Portsmouth has settled a wrongful death case for $11 million after a 2021 police pursuit ended in a crash that left a man dead and his wife permanently disabled.
Attorneys Del. Don Scott, Kevin Biniazan, and Jeffrey Breit represented Temika Pleas in the wrongful death case. They announced the settlement on Monday and said the $11 million was the maximum amount issued under Portsmouth’s insurance policy.
Pleas and her husband, 35-year-old Calvin Majette III, were driving home from the grocery store on March 13, 2021 when Ciara Elliott ran a red light on California Avenue and crashed into their car. Elliott was fleeing police at the time of the crash.
Majette died instantly and Pleas was severely injured.
“Temika suffered a traumatic brain injury. She lost a spleen. She had orbital bones broken obviously in her face, scars, several internal injuries, surgeries. She was in the hospital for well over a month trying to recover,” Scott said. “She was hurt really bad, and more importantly, she lost her husband and her best friend that day.”
“When you consider the fact that Ms. Pleas lost her ability to enjoy her life the way she had, and the fact that she lost her husband, three children have lost their father, that settlement is probably not as big to them,” Scott continued. “I’m sure they’d trade every single penny back to get their dad and her husband back.”
Portsmouth police tried to stop 28-year-old Elliott after an officer recognized her at a Airline Boulevard shopping center, ran her plates, and realized she was wanted on fraud, forgery, and driving with suspended license. Elliott fled police, leading them on a chase that reached up to 90 miles per hour through busy city streets, Breit said.
Pleas’ lawyers said the pursuing officer violated “principles of proper police conduct” by engaging in the chase in the high-traffic area, and that Elliott did not pose a threat until the chase began. She pleaded guilty to the involuntary manslaughter charge on February 9 and is scheduled to be sentenced in April.
“Like I said, the juice ain’t worth the squeeze when you’re flying through a residential area and there’s someone who hasn’t hurt anybody, that’s no danger to public safety. The only danger that it was that they might go write another high check,” Scott said. “That’s not worth chasing anybody. That’s not even worth initiating a high-speed chase.”
“It’s not worth somebody’s life. It’s not worth somebody’s mental health,” Scott continued. “[Temika’s] physical and mental health is now destroyed because of that.”
Pleas will use the settlement to pay for her ongoing medical treatments and to care for her children.
“The amount of the settlement will provide some sense of stability for this family and their three children. While there will never be sufficient funds to replace a life, we hope this will provide some comfort and security,” Biniazan said.
Scott is calling on Portsmouth police to prevent similar tragedies by adhering to policies and improving officer training.
“The Portsmouth police could have avoided this tragedy all together,” Scott said. “It’s very unfortunate that the family had to go through this. There are police procedures and policies that were violated in this case. Our hope is that this settlement will be a lesson learned by everyone on what is or isn’t a safe pursuit.”
Breit said police knew who Elliott was and where she lived, and that a high-speed chase wasn’t necessary. Pleas’ children are now living with her sister, LaToya Northcutt. A trustee will help with the management of the settlement funds.
“Honestly, I just wanted my sister to get better, and I wanted better for her children because they suffered a great loss. They really have,” Northcutt said. “Emotionally, physically, mentally. They have really, really suffered, and while this doesn’t change anything, it doesn’t bring anything back, it will help them in the transition.”
Portsmouth City Attorney Burle U. Stromberg shared this statement on Monday: “While the settlement can never bring back Mr. Majette we’re pleased the city and its insurance carrier could provide at least some assistance to Ms. Pleas and her family. I would also say that we appreciate the way Ms. Pleas attorneys Jeffrey Breit and Delegate Don Scott handled this matter so that it could be settled within the city’s policy limits.”