No charges sought in deadly attempted robbery involving cab driver

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich – No charges will be sought against a cab driver involved in a deadly attempted robbery in Grand Rapids in late March.

It was March 23 when investigators say Timothy Coleman used a hammer to try to rob cab driver Jake Strickland near Jefferson and East Fulton downtown.

Kent County Prosecutor Christopher Becker issued his written opinion on the case Tuesday explaining why no charges will be sought below:

FACTS

On March 23, 2017 Grand Rapids Police were dispatched to Jefferson SE and East Fulton Avenue regarding a possible robbery attempt. when officers responded they found Timothy Coleman lying on the sidewalk unresponsive. In the road, next to his cab, was Jake Strickland. Mr. Strickland indicated that Mr. Coleman had attempted to rob him while in his cab which led them to this location.

Mr. Strickland told police he had picked up Timothy Coleman at the Family Fare at Fuller and Leonard NE. Originally Mr. Coleman wanted to go to the area of Cherry/Madison SE. When they approached the area Mr. Coleman had Mr. Strickland turn the cab onto Madison northbound. It was then Mr. Strickland felt an object pressed into his shoulder, was struck in the head, and Mr. Coleman indicated, “I’m going to blast your guts out if you don’t give me your money!”.

Instead of providing money, Mr. Strickland told his assailant that they were both going to die tonight because he was going to drive the cab into a building if he was going to get robbed. Mr. Strickland then turned on to Jefferson at a high rate of speed taking them to the intersection of Jefferson and East Fulton. Apparently Mr. Coleman was frightened by the actions of Mr. Strickland’s driving because he asked to be let out of the cab when they got to the intersection of Fulton and Jefferson. Mr. Strickland stopped the car and let him get out. It was at this time Mr. Strickland saw that Mr. Coleman had a hammer, not a gun.

Mr. Coleman got out of the back on the passenger side and proceeded around the car. Mr. Strickland tried to leave at this time, but his cab stalled. At this time Mr. Strickland realized Mr. Coleman stole his lunchbox when he exited the cab. Mr. Coleman approached the driver’s window armed with the hammer and once again demanded money. Mr. Strickland was able to start the cab and attempted to go in reverse to get away, but the cab stalled once again. Mr. Coleman continued to demand money. Mr. Strickland once again started the cab and was able to put it in reverse. During this sequence, Mr. Coleman abandoned the attempt to rob Mr. Strickland and fled with the lunchbox to the back of the cab.

Mr. Strickland thought Mr. Coleman was going to run across the street to the west side of Jefferson, which would have been in the direction of the sidewalk nearest to the driver’s side. Mr. Strickland lost sight of him as he put his vehicle in reverse. According to Mr. Strickland he put the car in reverse so that he could see where Mr. Coleman was going so as to inform police which direction he had fled. When he put his cab in reverse Mr. Strickland was looking at his driver’s side mirror. Mr. Strickland lost sight of Mr. Coleman while he was in reverse, so he stopped the cab. At that point he put the vehicle in drive and pulled forward and then looked into his rearview mirror and saw Mr. Coleman directly behind his cab on his knees going through the lunchbox. Mr. Strickland then realized Mr. Coleman did not go west as he originally thought, but instead cut to the east while he was backing the cab up, so he had struck Mr. Coleman with his cab.

Mr. Coleman was able to get up and walk to the east side of Jefferson on the sidewalk. Mr. Strickland indicated he could see blood on Mr. Coleman, Mr. Coleman apologized three times for what had happened, and then sat down on the sidewalk. Mr. Strickland then contacted his dispatch to inform them he had hit someone. By the time police arrived Mr. Coleman had collapsed and was pronounced dead at the scene. Police later found a hammer in the street where this incident occurred.

Detectives with Grand Rapids Police Department confirmed with Calder City Cab that this particular vehicle had issues with stalling. They reviewed mechanic reports confirming this, they also spoke with the day driver who indicated this was the case. from Calder City records police confirmed a dispatch ticket to pick up an individual at 1:41 AM at Fuller/Leonard. ¬†They also heard the dispatch tape of Mr. Strickland calling the company informing them that he had been assaulted with a hammer and that he may have hit the individual and he needed assistance. Police also spoke with Mr. Coleman’s ex-wile who indicated to them that Mr. Coleman had been struggling with addiction issues, specifically crack cocaine, for the last 20 years. She also told police that on at least three occasions in the past. Mr. Coleman had threatened people with a hammer. There was no real damage to the cab. Crime scene technicians did find apparent hairs on the undercarriage of the vehicle and what is described as a “dust disturbance” on the sway bar, frame, muffler and tailpipe.

The autopsy report indicates that Mr. Coleman died of multiple blunt chest Injuries; bilateral rib fractures, a bilateral hemothorax, and cardiac contusions. On his back Mr. Coleman had, “three parallel linear abrasions that are suggestive of tire treads. The right upper lateral back has a 2 inch transverse abrasion measuring up to 4 inches in greatest dimension.” This report supports the version that Mr. Coleman was in fact run over by the cab as he attempted to flee his robbery attempt.

THE LAW

This is not a situation in which Mr. Strickland used deadly force In self-defense when he was In fear of being robbed. To the contrary, the only version we have which is also supported by the physical evidence is that this was an accident. Mr. Strickland was trying to back up to view where Mr. Coleman was going and struck him unintentionally as his cab went in reverse. The question then becomes was Mr. Strickland criminally liable for the crime of involuntary manslaughter due to his actions that night. The answer is no.

The elements of involuntary manslaughter are: 1) The defendant was operating his motor vehicle, 2) The defendant operated the vehicle In a grossly negligent manner, 3) The defendant’s gross negligence was a substantial cause of an accident resulting in injuries to a person, 4) The injuries caused the death of the person. CJI2nd 16.12 In this case there is no dispute regarding elements one and four: Mr. Strickland was operating a vehicle, and the operation of that vehicle injured Mr. Strickland causing his death. We must then examine the driving of Mr. Strickland and determine if the driving was done in a grossly negligent manner.

Gross negligence requires: 1) knowledge of a situation requiring the exercise of ordinary care and diligence to avers injury to another; 2) the ability to avoid the resulting harm by ordinary care and diligence in the use of the means at hand; 3) and the omission to use such care and diligence to avert the threatened danger when to the ordinary mind it must be apparent that the result is likely to prove
disastrous to another. People v McCoy, 223 Mich App 500, 503; 566 NW2d 667 (1997); People v England, 176 Mich App 334, 338; 438 NW2d 908 (1989).

In England the defendant was found grossly negligent because he disregarded a stop sign posted at an intersection in an area where the defendant had lived for the past 15 years. The defendant had been drinking and it was 1:30 in the morning, testimony also showed he was driving at an excessive speed when he went through the stop sign. “(A) rational trier of fact could have found that, under the circumstances (night time, defendant’s familiarity with the intersection, excessive speed, and failure to stop at the posted stop sign), defendant omitted to use such care and diligence to avert the threatened danger when to the ordinary mind it must be apparent that the result is likely to prove disastrous to another.” England, supra, at 339.

This case is substantially different. Mr. Strickland was the victim of an armed robbery perpetrated by Mr. Coleman. It was a very unusual and surprising situation; virtually any person would not know how to act appropriately when being robbed. It is impossible to impose a standard of “ordinary care and diligence to avert injury to another” on a victim in a situation like this. A victim is thinking only of surviving and removing themselves from the situation as quickly as possible, not what impact that may have on their assailant. When examining this case, Mr. Strickland exercised remarkable restraint. There is no evidence that he drove in an excessive speed at the time of the incident; there are no skid marks, or tire burn marks that indicate his wheels were out of control when he put the car in reverse. He estimated he may have been going 10-15 miles per hour when the car was moving. If he was traveling at a high rate of speed, Mr. Coleman would have been thrown over the vehicle, or thrown away from the cab as it struck him at high speed. Instead, the evidence shows he went under the car; there were tire marks on his back and blood was found under the cab. This supports the statement of Mr. Strickland that he was not going fast, or perhaps Mr. Coleman fell as he fled, in which case Mr. Strickland would not have seen him when in reverse. It would not “be apparent that the result is likely to prove disastrous to another” by simply putting a car in reverse to see where the robber went to help police apprehend him.

The conduct of Mr. Strickland does not rise to the level of gross negligence, therefore no charges will be brought against him.

-Chris Becker, Kent County Prosecutor

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