South Bend officer testifies in disciplinary hearing: "I wish I could take it back"
SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Tears flowed down South Bend Police Officer Justin Gorny’s face as he recalled the series of events that happened on July 20, 2018, that left 22-year-old mother of two, Erica Flores, dead.
It was the second day of Gorny’s disciplinary hearing and the first time he shared his side of the story publicly. His testimony was heard before the Board of Public Safety which will make the final decision on the termination of Gorny as recommended by South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski.
During his testimony, Gorny recalled growing up without a father and said he would never intentionally take away a mother from her children or a daughter from her parents. He also said he relives the crash every night before he goes to sleep.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I wish I could take it back. That’s something I will never forget for the rest of my life.”
Before Gorny, three other South Bend Police Officers took the stand. Officers Stuk, Myers, and Carey all testified that during midnight shifts, they tend to drive faster than they would during the day because of less traffic. They all also said that sometimes they turn off their sirens for tactical reasons when responding to calls such as a robbery that would alert the suspect to police presence.
Gorny’s defense team argued that the panels for turning on his lights and sirens were different than what he was used to, attributing his unfamiliarity with the buttons as the reason why his sirens weren’t on at the time of crash. Gorny was issued a Ford Taurus in May of 2018. He used a Chevy Impala for two years prior to that.
Surveillance footage showed Gorny previously had his lights on when he was responding to a call for a reckless driver on July 20. However, his lights were momentarily shut off, which he says was an accident and also stemmed from a lack of training.
“So he reaches down to activate his siren and because of that new panel he accidentally hits the wrong button and his lights go out, he quickly corrects it, and he’s in the intersection before he can get his siren back on,” John Kautzman, Gorny’s attorney, explains to the Board of Public Safety why his sirens weren’t on before the intersection of Western and Kaley Streets, where the crash happened.
The city’s attorney, Ashley Colborn, argued that Gorny did know how to operate his lights and sirens citing a report that Gorny used his lights 175 times since being issued his new car in May of 2018. She also stressed that Gorny violated five different policies of the South Bend Police Department.
Colborn said the choices of Gorny to operate his vehicle at a high rate of speed and to not wear a seatbeat and to not use his lights and sirens as required by the department led to the death of Flores.
“The evidence that the South Bend Police Department has presented shows that Officer Gorny made choices on July 20, 2018,” Colborn said. “Officer Gorny’s choices ended in a collision where someone lost their life. Choices have consequences.”
Seconds before impact, Gorny’s car reached a maximum speed of 98 m.p.h. on Western Avenue, a 30 m.p.h. zone.
“At no point in time did I feel like I did not have control of my vehicle,” Gorny said.
The traffic stop call Gorny was responding to involved a reckless driver he said was reportedly coming up on Western and Olive Streets without its lights on, at a high rate of speed and traveling into oncoming traffic. He said he increased his speed substantially after learning the driver of the vehicle he was responding to was a threat to the public.
Following the hearing, Steven Phillip, the attorney for Erica Flores’s family, said he did not think that was a valid reason for traveling close to 100 miles per hour. He also referred to Gorny’s sympathy for the Flores family as “playing the sympathy card.”
“He said he was sorry but did he ever take responsibility for the death of Erica Flores?” Phillips said. “He didn’t. Nobody did in that courtroom.”
The Board of Public Safety still has to review the information presented at the disciplinary hearing before they can come to a decision on whether or not Gorny should be terminated. They will cast their votes to take no action, suspend, or fire Gorny on Nov. 14 at the board’s next public meeting.
Follow ABC57's Tiffany Salameh's thread on the hearing Tuesday:
DAY 2 — The disciplinary hearing for Officer Justin Gorny continues today.— Tiffany Salameh ABC57 (@tiffanysalameh) November 6, 2018
Gorny hit and killed Erica Flores, 22, in July responding to a traffic stop going almost 100 mph. @ABC57News pic.twitter.com/ri7cDzvMgs