Newark Advocate on 5/8/2019 by Michaela Sumner, Newark Advocate
NEWARK – The DiSario family has filed a civil lawsuit against several officials in Licking County Municipal Court, alleging their actions led to the death of Kirkersville police chief Steven Eric DiSario two years ago Sunday.
According to Licking County court records, a complaint was filed in Licking County Common Pleas Court on Tuesday. Plaintiffs in the case include DiSario’s widow, Aryn DiSario, their children, and his mother, Robin Walker.
Court records list Licking County Municipal Court, the City of Newark, Judges David Stansbury and Michael Higgins, probation officers Steven Crawmer, Jessica Massa, Karrie Rice, Vanessa Stalnaker, and three unknown individuals as defendants in the case.
On May 12, 2017, Thomas Hartless killed his former girlfriend Marlina Medrano, newly-hired Kirkersville police chief DiSario, and nurse aide Cindy Krantz at the Pine Kirk Care Center in Kirkersville. Hartless then took his own life.
In the complaint, the plaintiffs allege by “engaging in such a willful, wanton and reckless manner with complete disregard or caring about the consequences of their ‘unreasonable and unacceptable’ behavior,” the defendants breached their duty of care and that breach caused DiSario’s death.
In the days following the Kirkersville shooting, the Adult Probation Department conducted an internal investigation, resulting in a report detailing mistakes made in the release of Hartless, as well as new procedures put in place to prevent a similar tragedy in the future.
According to the report, Hartless served less than three weeks of a 90-day jail sentence for three domestic violence convictions that Judge Higgins handed down on March 23.
Using the investigative report as evidence, the DiSario family claimed numerous actions by probation officers and municipal court judges led to DiSario’s death.
Citing that report, the complaint said a senior probation officer and judge are supposed to review an offender for potential early release from the Licking County Justice Center. The complaint alleges between 2010 and April 11, 2017, the judges and senior probation officer defaulted to the judgement of probation officers who conducted the interviews with offenders.
During a meeting with his probation officer, Hartless was ordered not to have any weapons in his possession or use any firearms. In the hours after the shooting, law enforcement found more than 60 firearms inside Hartless’ Utica home.
At the beginning of May 2017 when Medrano made another domestic violence complaint against Hartless, the investigation determined probation officers failed to take immediate action when alerted to new allegations of domestic violence against Hartless by the same victim.
The complaint alleged no defendant associated with the probation department attempted to “physically locate Hartless, identify his correct address or obtain firearms and other deadly weapons” in his possession.
At the end of May, four probation officers – who are listed as defendants in the complaint – were disciplined following a probe of the Hartless case. Judge Stansbury imposed suspensions for the individuals.
Within the complaint, the DiSario family argued “Higgins has admitted he signed the order of release with no formal hearing and which did not include the mandated domestic violence counseling or a ‘no contact’ order with Marlina Medrano.”
Court records argue DiSario’s family suffered a loss of consortium including “the loss of love, society, services, parental companionship and/or companionship of husband and/or father” as a result of his death and injuries due to the defendants’ actions.
Based on the investigative report, the plaintiffs said the Licking County Municipal Court Department of Adult Probation was found to have “lacked any checks and balances in the early release program” and that Hartless was granted early release without a formal hearing by Judge Higgins.
The complaint argues by admitting and finding the failures of the probation officers led to the victims’ deaths, Licking County Municipal Court found those defendants’ actions were a “direct and proximate cause of Eric’s death.”
The plaintiffs’ requested to recover damages in excess of $25,000 and punitive damages in excess of $25,000.
Licking County Municipal Court judge and probation department officials could not be reached for comment by Wednesday afternoon.