Family of woman run over and killed by Unified police officer in parking lot blames 911 dispatcher, police in lawsuit

(Photo courtesy LaToya Mack) Cindreia Europe poses for a photo with her National Merit Scholar certificate.

A man called Unified police after sundown on a March day to report a person was lying down in a parking lot near the Pizza Hut where he worked in Millcreek. He said that person was wearing dark clothes, and told the dispatcher he was worried.

“I’d hate to see him get run over, if he hasn’t already,” the man told the dispatcher.

But when a Unified officer arrived to check out the situation, that’s exactly what happened.

Officer Megan Franklin hit Cindreia Europe, dragged her 45 feet underneath the patrol car, and struck her again after Europe had fallen free and Franklin turned the car. The 23-year-old later died in the parking lot that night, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in 3rd District Court.

The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office declined in August to file criminal charges against Franklin, who had a history of poor driving at her previous job as a patrol officer for West Valley City. But Europe’s mother, LaToya Mack, believes negligence by Franklin, her current and former police employers, and the dispatcher at the Valley Emergency Communications Center caused Europe’s death.

Mack is represented by attorney Eric Hinckley, who said he filed the lawsuit after seeing surveillance footage of the March 5 crash and hearing a recording of the 911 call.

The 10-page lawsuit outlines how the initial caller told the 911 dispatcher where Europe was lying — the correct location and that she was in the parking lot — but the dispatcher relayed only some of that information to Franklin.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Attorney Eric Hinckley explains a law suit that has been filed by a representative for Cindreia Europe, who was killed when a Unified police officer with a history of poor driving ran over her in a parking lot, during a news conference in Ogden, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019.

The lawsuit alleges the dispatcher gave Franklin the address for the adjacent parking lot and reported Europe was on the ground but didn’t specify she was lying in the parking lot — nor that the caller was afraid Europe would be run over.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill noted this when he declined to file charges against Franklin, writing, “not all the information provided by the caller was communicated to patrol officers.”

The lawsuit also alleges that as Franklin entered the parking lot near 3300 South and 2300 East, she “failed to keep a proper lookout” as she drove at an “unreasonable speed.” Hinckley said investigators clocked her at 10.2 mph.

Even after injuring Europe, the lawsuit said, Franklin didn’t stop or slow, “apparently unaware that she had run over [Europe].” Europe “thrashed around in pain for minutes fighting for her life before eventually succumbing to her injuries," it said. Hinckley added Wednesday that it appears Europe’s death was caused by injuries sustained when she was struck the second time.

In her interview with police, released by Hinckley, Franklin told investigators she thought she’d hit a mound of snow or a trash bag, and accelerated to get over it. She said she got out of her car to see what she’d hit, and that’s when she saw Europe’s body.

Franklin got emotional at that point in the interview, apologizing to investigators multiple times, saying, “I thought I could get through this.”

She also told police she was looking for Europe on a bench, sidewalk or grassy areas near the parking lot, and tried to get Europe help as soon as she could.

In a video, also released by Hinckley, Europe can be seeing lying in the parking lot, just beyond the confines of a parking spot designated for disabled drivers. Franklin drives her police SUV into the lot and runs over Europe, leaving behind what Hinckley said was a backpack. Then, as Franklin begins to turn the SUV several feet later, Europe’s body can be seen behind the back wheel of the vehicle.

Mack said in an interview that she hasn’t been able to bring herself to watch the video and can’t talk about her trauma with anyone, because “it makes [her] soul splinter in brand new little pieces.”

She said she doesn’t forgive Franklin and is disappointed in Gill’s decision to not prosecute. Her lawsuit alleges Franklin had a “dangerously poor driving record" at her previous job with West Valley City police, and that West Valley City didn’t tell UPD about it and UPD didn’t ask. It asserts that Europe died due to that negligence.

“What I know is my baby is dead because of Megan Franklin’s dereliction of her duties, because UPD have very lax hiring standards, my only child, my sweet girl, is gone forever," she said. "What kind of world is this where Megan Franklin isn’t in jail?”

The suit seeks damages for pain and suffering, the loss of Europe’s future earning potential and attorney fees.

In Franklin’s eight years at West Valley City police, she was involved in seven crashes that the department said were both “preventable” and her fault, according to records given to The Salt Lake Tribune through a records request.

Police officials noted after Franklin’s last crash, while employed at West Valley City in May 2017, that she had a “pattern of poor attention to proper driving tactics.” In her time with the city, she received a reprimand letter for the following crashes in her police vehicle:

• Striking a rock while making a U-turn on April 10, 2010.

• Hitting another vehicle while making a U-turn on July 26, 2010.

• Running into a construction barrel on Aug. 29, 2013.

• Backing into a light pole on Nov. 8, 2014.

• Hitting a concrete curb on Dec. 22, 2014.

• Running over large rocks that lined a driveway on May 6, 2017.

The lawsuit lists two other incidents for which Franklin was disciplined for poor driving. On March 4, 2012, Franklin was reported to be speeding and weaving in and out of traffic, and on Feb. 24, 2015, she struck the back of another car after “taking her eyes [off] the road.” She reportedly was injured in that crash because she wasn’t wearing a seat belt.

She resigned from the West Valley City department in November 2017 and started working at UPD in December. Franklin resigned from UPD on Aug. 1, police spokeswoman Sgt. Melody Gray said.

Gray said Wednesday the department hadn’t seen the lawsuit yet but doesn’t comment on pending litigation. West Valley City police spokeswoman Roxeanne Vainuku didn’t respond to The Tribune’s request for comment.