Wrongful death suit seeks $700,000
An estate has been opened for the purpose of bringing a wrongful death action against Harrison County Sheriff G. Michael Deatrick, the Harrison County Board of Commissioners and the Harrison County Council.
Greg Clark, an attorney representing Christine Britton’s family, confirmed the notice was filed Sept. 17 in Harrison Circuit Court on behalf of the estate of Christine Britton. Britton allegedly shot herself on March 29, using a pistol belonging to and provided by her husband John Britton, who is a police officer with the Harrison County Sheriff’s Department. Christine Britton’s estate sent a Notice of Tort Claim, putting Harrison County on notice that it plans to bring a wrongful death action against it for the woman’s death.
By law, when a party plans to bring legal action against a government entity, the party must file a Notice of Tort Claim. The county has 90 days to either accept, deny and/or negotiate the claim.
Charlotte Hitner, Christine Britton’s mother, is serving as the personal representative of her daughter’s estate for the sole purpose of bringing a wrongful death action on behalf of Christine Britton’s 13-year-old daughter. The claimant anticipates the damage to be in excess of $700,000, but per Indiana Code, the $700,000 amount is the maximum allowed by law.
‘This is on behalf of (Christine’s) daughter and not the family trying to make a dollar. Chrissie was the primary parent in the child’s life, and now she’s gone,’ Clark said. ‘The only heir to this, by law, is the daughter, and John. Our argument is that he won’t be able to take over the estate because he contributed to the death of Christine.’
On March 29, officers with the Harrison County Sheriff’s Department responded to the 2400 block of Ryleigh Court near Ramsey shortly after 6 p.m. on a call of a gunshot victim. The 911 call was made by John Britton. When deputies arrived, they discovered Christine Britton, 28, deceased. The county police officers requested that the Indiana State Police assume the investigation.
In an emotional call to 911 dispatchers, John Britton said that the couple had been fighting and that his wife had shot herself.
During an interview with ISP Sgt. Andy Squier, John Britton allegedly said he told his wife during an argument, ‘You want to kill yourself, fine,’ and laid a .40-caliber handgun on their bed and walked out of the room.
Clark said the family ‘reasonably believed’ the pistol to be the officer’s service weapon and one provided by the county. Since John Britton would have been serving in his capacity as a county employee when he provided his wife with the gun, which is only to be used in the line of duty, it brings culpability to the county, Clark said. In addition, the sheriff’s department is the law enforcement division of Harrison County government, Clark added.
According to a crime scene investigator’s report, blood evidence at the scene indicates that John Britton had not been in the area of the fatal shot. The report says the jeans, sweater and boots he was wearing were void of high-velocity blood spatter.
The Notice of Tort Claim says, ‘Officer Britton, having knowledge that his wife intended to commit suicide, provided the firearm to Ms. Britton used to take her own life.’
Indiana Code 35-42-1-2.5, pertaining to assisted suicide, says that a person who has knowledge that another person intends to commit or attempt to commit suicide and who intentionally provides the physical means by which the other person attempts or commits suicide; or participates in a physical act by which the other person attempts or commits suicide commits a Class C felony.
A Class C felony is punishable by a $10,000 fine and two to eight years in prison.
The claim goes on to say, ‘Ms. Britton was an able-bodied woman employed at the time of her death and that by reason of her wrongful death, her estate was damaged and her daughter was permanently deprived of her means of support, affection, and love.’