Commentary

City Forced To Pay $240k in Medical Bills for Gangbanger Who Shot at Police

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Governments are in the business of passing and repealing laws, but there is one natural law that no government made and no government can ever undo — the law of unintended consequences.

The law of unintended consequences works in that as a government passes a law to address one particular issue — even a well-intentioned law with provable good results — that same law can give rise to unexpected and unintended consequences in other areas, which sometimes can prove to be contrary to the purpose of the original law itself. The consequences can be entirely anathema to the will of the people who elected the folks who passed the original law in the first place.

Such appears to be the case in Omaha, Nebraska, where the city looks to be bound by law and is responsible for paying the medical bills of a known gang member who opened fire on a police officer.

The Omaha World-Herald reported Monday that the city is on the hook for an estimated $240,000 in medical bills for 36-year-old John Ezell, Jr.

Ezell was shot multiple times by Omaha police officers after Ezell fired his weapon at Omaha Officer Ken Fortune during a traffic stop and pursuit in September.

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During the incident, Omaha gang officers in an unmarked car attempted to stop a vehicle in which Ezell was a passenger. While the vehicle initially stopped, it then took off — reportedly at the urging of Ezell — and a brief pursuit ensued, during which multiple additional attempts were made to stop the car.

At one point, Fortune approached the vehicle only to be shot in the shoulder by Ezell. Two other officers returned fire on Ezell, striking him multiple times.

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Ezell now faces charges of attempted murder, first-degree assault on an officer and three weapons charges, and is being held on a $3 million bail.

Ezell spent more than a month recovering from the gunshot wounds at the Nebraska Medical Center and racked up medical bills totaling nearly $480,000 for his treatment. Ezell doesn’t have any health insurance, nor is he eligible for Medicaid or Medicare, and thus has no way to pay his medical bills.

That means the burden for paying the bill has fallen on the city, as per local and state law and court precedent.

Assistant City Attorney Jeff Bloom said the city was constitutionally obligated to pay the medical bills, citing a 1988 case in the Nebraska Supreme Court as having codified that responsibility. Essentially, whenever an individual is in the custody of the government and requires medical care, that government is responsible for the cost if the individual is unable to pay for it themselves.

“Since the medical need arose from an incident in which there was a shooting (involving Omaha police), that unfortunately makes us liable,” Bloom said.

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It is worth noting that while Ezell’s medical bills after the shooting incident totaled almost $480,000, the city had asked for that total to be cut in half and the hospital  agreed, leaving a balance due of $240,000, which will be paid out of the city’s judgement fund, which in turn is derived from property taxes.

The city council will have to vote on approving that expenditure, but as Bloom noted, the city feels it has no real choice in the matter as it is obligated to do so by state law and court precedent.

This situation is an example of the law of unintended consequences, as it is highly doubtful that those who initially passed the law requiring city and county governments to pick up the tab for medical bills incurred by individuals in their custody ever envisioned having to pay exorbitant costs for a known criminal who attempted to murder a police officer.

Indeed, there would have been no medical bills for Ezell at all if he hadn’t fired on Fortune, which precipitated the return fire that landed him the hospital.

In all likelihood, that taxpayers of Omaha will have to simply suck it up and pay the bills for the would-be cop killer. Perhaps a pleasant unintended consequence of that action will be an outraged public who will put pressure on elected officials and demand a change to the law to prevent similar occurrences in the future.

There are legitimate, if not noble, reasons for the passage of the initial law, such as ensuring that an inmate who suffers a heart attack or is assaulted by other inmates can receive the necessary medical treatment for their health and well-being.

That said, perhaps the law was written too broadly and needs to be narrowed somewhat in scope, carving out exceptions for violent criminals whose medical bills arose through their own criminal actions, such as attempting to murder a police officer.

It will be interesting to see if the city of Omaha simply pays the bills for Ezell and continues along as if nothing happened, or if this incident will prompt a fundamental change in the way laws are crafted going forward to reduce the risk of unintended consequences like this one.

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Ben Marquis is a writer who identifies as a constitutional conservative/libertarian. He has written about current events and politics for The Western Journal since 2014. His focus is on protecting the First and Second Amendments.
Ben Marquis has written on current events and politics for The Western Journal since 2014. He reads voraciously and writes about the news of the day from a conservative-libertarian perspective. He is an advocate for a more constitutional government and a staunch defender of the Second Amendment, which protects the rest of our natural rights. He lives in Little Rock, Arkansas, with the love of his life as well as four dogs and four cats.
Birthplace
Louisiana
Nationality
American
Education
The School of Life
Location
Little Rock, Arkansas
Languages Spoken
English
Topics of Expertise
Politics




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