Family of disabled woman settles lawsuit but says Livonia police refused to apologize

LIVONIA, Mich. (WXYZ) - A young woman with special needs says she thought she was going to die after police officers threw her to the ground and handcuffed her inside the Livonia Walmart. 

When the Kozma family couldn’t get an apology from Livonia police, they sued the city and Walmart.

Those lawsuits have now been resolved, but the Kozma’s are upset that more isn’t being done to make sure this never happens again.

Jodi Kozma’s parents say what should have been a simple shopping trip, turned into their daughter being traumatized by a false accusation of shoplifting, and an aggressive and unnecessary arrest.

“What died with me that day, was just seeing the heartbreak that she suffered,” said Wendy Kozma.

She says her daughter may be 27-years-old, but due to a birth defect, she has the mental capacity of an 8-year-old.  Jodi’s parents are her legal guardians, and they make sure Jodi is always accompanied by a family member on outings.

The Kozma’s have always stressed to their daughter that if someone ever tries to harm her she should find the nearest police officer.

“That was broken in an instant. In an instant,” said Wendy Kozma.

On August 3, 2012, Jodi’s grandma and aunt took her to the Livonia Walmart. But store loss prevention officers thought they saw Jodi putting a package of hair ties in her waistband. 

In fact, Jodi had paid for those $3 hair ties, but that didn’t stop Walmart’s security team from calling the cops.

“She took nothing! She’d done nothing wrong,” said attorney Deborah Gordon. 

Gordon says instead of calmly talking to family members or to Jodi, within ten seconds Livonia police officers were on top of Jodi, handcuffing her.

“They said put your hands behind your back for us, she thought she was just complying and the next thing she knew, she was thrown to the ground. So this has caused a significant fear. She reacts when she sees patrol cars, she reacts when they go near the Walmart, because she led a very sheltered life,” Gordon told 7 Investigator Heather Catallo. 

Gordon says the police violated the Kozma’s trust even more when they separated Jodi from her relatives for questioning. This is how her mother described that to us back in 2014:

“I told them that her IQ was very low and I was her guardian and that was the equivalent of holding an 8-year-old without representation, and I needed to be by her side,” said Wendy Kozma.

Once Wendy was allowed in, she showed the officers that Jodi had nothing hidden on her body and that she hadn’t stolen a thing. The Kozma’s later asked Livonia police to investigate the incident and they wanted an apology so that Jodi could once again trust the police.

“It didn’t go any further than their little office, and that was atrocious,” said Wendy Kozma.

When Jodi never got that apology, the Kozma’s felt they had no choice but to sue. They recently settled their lawsuit against Livonia for $125,000. 

“To this day if you ask them if they did anything wrong, they’d say no, and they’d say they’re not going to apologize.  But they did do something wrong – how can you say you didn’t do something wrong?  She didn’t have the hair ties, and you threw her on the ground, and you’ve already admitted under oath she was not a danger to anybody,” said Gordon.

Lawyers will only say the Kozma’s suit against Walmart has been “resolved.”  But the Kozma’s still want Livonia police and other departments to receive training in how to deal with those who have mental disabilities.

“You really have to look towards the family for assistance if they’re standing right there. And there were family members right there to aid them.  And their refusal to listen and accommodate was totally unbelievable," said Wendy Kozma.  

The Livonia City attorney told us in a written statement that agreed to settle the lawsuit because even though, “it is our firm belief that the Livonia Police Department acted very professionally at all times, if this matter were to proceed to a jury trial, it is possible that a sympathetic jury could overlook that and award damages in excess of the proposed settlement amount as well as substantial attorney fees and costs.”
 

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