EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio — Merylin Conard can no longer dance. She can’t play ball with her four grandchildren. Since that October morning almost 11 years ago, life isn’t close to the same.
She needs a cane to get around. The pain on her left side is a daily reminder of what happened.
Same with her life-long friend Charles Hunt. The vertical scar along his chest and abdomen take him back to that night when he was careful, but the East Cleveland police officer wasn’t.
"It bothers me because I can't walk. I can't do none of the things I used to do," Conard, 63, said.
Both look at the pictures and can’t believe they’re alive. Slammed on the driver’s side door by a police cruiser moving 70 mph an hour. No skid marks. Not even sirens or lights.
"I thought I was gone because like I said, when I passed out everything was black. Everything just went black," Conard recalled. “I thought I was dead. I thought I had died for real."
Hunt, 57, was the driving that morning in October 2008. He remembers slowly edging his car out onto St. Clair Avenue near East 140th Street. He never saw the officer’s cruiser blasting through the red light.
Then darkness until he awoke in an Emergency Room.
"Now, I'm thinking I've been kidnapped or something and they're experimenting on me because I don't remember no accident, don't remember the impact or nothing,” Hunt said. “I guess because it was so hard it knocked me right out."
"After I saw the pictures I didn't even believe I was still living."
The couple sued and won. A Cuyahoga County jury awarding them $11.1 million. That was in 2007. They still haven’t collected from East Cleveland, one of Ohio’s poorest cities. Just last month, an appeals court upheld the verdict.
East Cleveland is running out of time to pay up. The city has lost two other recent civil lawsuits related to its police force.
In one case, three wrongfully convicted men were awarded $5 million each. In another case, in which the city did not even appear in court, the city successfully appealed a $22 million verdict awarded a man abused by police, setting up a new trial.
Attorney Robert DiCello said the judgment for Hunt and Conard may ultimately be paid by taxpayers outside the city limits. He may ask, or he could sue, to have the state of Ohio cover the city’s legal costs. East Cleveland is currently under fiscal watch by the state auditor’s office. A shrinking tax base and small population have crippled the city.
"It's a city that is mismanaged. I do not agree that it's poor," DiCello said. "So, we're really concerned that there's an excuse being made. But just because a city doesn't have resources on hand, it doesn't mean it can't ask for those resources from the state."
The officer who struck Hunt’s car was fired, but later rehired by the city. Law Director Willa Hemmonds did not respond to a message seeking comment.