Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Missouri Supreme Court to hear Mercy Joplin's appeal of $1.5 million judgment for shooting victim

The Missouri Supreme Court will hear Mercy Joplin's appeal of a $1.5 million judgment awarded to a Monett man who was shot in the hospital parking lot in 2015.

A Newton County jury found on July 27, 2021 that Mercy was 75 percent responsible and Stephen Harner 25 percent responsible for the shooting, which happened after a woman broke into Harner's car and stole his gun, which he had left in either the glove compartment or the console while visiting his daughter who was in the emergency room.

The jury awarded Harner $1.5 million, agreeing with Harner's attorney's claim that Mercy was aware of the intruder because she had caused problems elsewhere in the parking lot earlier in the evening.

Mercy lost its appeal in the Southern District, with one judge dissenting from the opinion and saying Mercy did not have a duty to warn Harner.

The circumstances that led to Harner's shooting were described in the Southern District Court of Appeals opinion:

Keith (“Keith”) and Elnora (“Elnora”) 4 Wooldridge, an elderly husband and wife, entered Mercy Parking Lot H on December 23, 2015 in their white Ford Focus (the “Focus”). They spent about five hours in the Mercy Emergency Department and returned when it was dark to the Focus, which did not lock, to find a woman [Liska] inside. 

Keith told Liska, “Lady, I think you’re in the wrong car.” 

Liska exited the Focus on the driver’s side without speaking to Keith and ran around the back of the Focus where she nearly ran into Elnora, who was standing by the passenger side of the Focus. 

The Wooldridges saw Liska take from the Focus a carrying case containing Elnora’s prescription medications. Liska urinated and defecated in the Focus and ate peanut butter crackers that Elnora stored in the Focus due to Elnora’s diabetic condition. Liska stayed in the Focus at least 20 minutes.

Liska testified she saw bottles of prescription medication in the Focus and took them, intending to sell them. Keith and Elnora immediately went back inside the Mercy Emergency Department and reported to Mercy employee Dee-Dee Baker (“Baker”) at the Mercy Emergency Department front desk: “[T]hat we had been robbed. That somebody was in our car and we had been robbed.” 

Mercy completed a Case Report related to the Wooldridge report. The Case Report identifies the incident type as “Theft/Larceny: From a Person[,]” identifies the Focus, lists the location of the incident as Mercy Parking Lot H, and lists what was stolen as prescription medicines. 

The Case Report states: Dee-Dee, ER Registrations, called and reported two vehicles have been robbed in the ED parking lot. Officer 14 is making contact with Dee-Dee. Dispatch was asked to review camera footage, I was trying to find video footage of individual around a vehicle in the parking lot, when the call came in of a shooting. Officer 14 has information. 

The Case Report has a section titled “Narrative text,” which states: On 12/23/2015 at 2033 hours,  [O]fficer Meier #14 was dispatched to the ER waiting area to speak with a distraught couple. As we made the introductions, they were quick to inform me that they had been the victims of a theft just prior to them calling security. They provided me with their contact information, a description of the vehicle, a brief description of the suspect, and a short synopsis of what they believed transpired. They were headed out to their vehicle at approx. 2030 hours. 

When they got to the car, Keith opened up the driver’s side door and found the suspect (a woman of petite build, approximately 5’2” tall, with longer than shoulder length dark hair[]) laying down over the seats, rummaging through the glove compartment. 

As soon as the door opened, the female jumped up, grabbed the box of prescription medicine in the back seat, and exited the car at a high rate of speed. Both Keith and Elnora stated that they hardly had time to react and have no idea which way the thief headed. When asked if the suspect had broken into the vehicle, they stated that the doors did not lock. I wrote down as much as I could get and then headed off to do mobile rounds.

Baker called Mercy employee Jody Berry (“Dispatcher Berry”), who worked in dispatch for Mercy’s Security Department (“Mercy Security”). The Wooldridges testified Mercy Security came right away. Keith testified the Mercy Security guard remarked “they had been looking for her” and “they’d been trying to catch her.” 

The Mercy Security guard told Keith and Elnora that Mercy had been “[l]ooking for a person that was getting into the cars.” Keith and Mercy Security guard Officer Ryan Meier (“Officer Meier”) went to the Focus while Elnora stayed inside the Mercy facility. 

Officer Meier viewed the interior and exterior of the Focus. Officer Meier testified he did not talk to any potential witnesses in Mercy Parking Lot H and did nothing else to make sure the person who had been in the Wooldridge vehicle was not still on Mercy property. 

Mercy Security told the Joplin Police Department about the Wooldridge report. A Joplin police officer was at Mercy to investigate the Wooldridge report at the time of the Harner shooting. 

Mercy Security guard Officer Justin Larcombe (“Officer Larcombe”) conducted two rounds by vehicle of Mercy Parking Lot H looking for suspicious people breaking into vehicles after being advised of the Wooldridge report. 

After the last round, he stopped at the Focus to view the Focus and discuss the Wooldridge report with Officer Meier and Keith. Officer Larcombe testified he had been called upon to serve as an escort for Mercy patients or visitors “many times” during his employment as a Mercy guard. 

Officer Larcombe testified he had been notified by Mercy Security dispatch in the past of vehicle alarms going off in Mercy parking lots and had investigated those reports and had checked on the vehicles on those occasions and likewise had checked on vehicles in the past in Mercy lots when he himself had heard or seen vehicle alarms going off. 

Officer Meier testified that, although Officer Larcombe had to carry a flashlight as part of his duties, neither Officer Meier nor Officer Larcombe walked Mercy Parking Lot H to look in each vehicle to find someone entering vehicles. Officer Meier agreed there were fewer than 45 vehicles in Mercy Parking Lot H at the time of the Wooldridge report. 

Tim Wampler, Mercy’s Manager of Security in December 2015, who was not present on December 23, 2015, testified Officer Larcombe should have gotten out of his security vehicle and conducted a ground search of Mercy Parking Lot H. 

Thomas Smith, Mercy’s retained expert, testified it would have taken one person seven to eight minutes to search Mercy Parking Lot H car-by-car in an effort to find Liska. 

 After leaving the Focus, Liska approached Flloyd Bennett (“Bennett”) in his vehicle and requested a ride. Bennett declined, as he had declined an earlier request by Liska for a ride. Bennett did not report either request for a ride to Mercy. 

 Liska then entered Harner’s vehicle, where she remained for about 50 minutes. Harner had arrived at Mercy at about 5:30 p.m. on December 23, 2015 in his vehicle, a used 2007 Jaguar convertible (the “Jaguar”) and parked in Mercy Parking Lot H in what Harner viewed as a safe parking spot by a light pole and next to an empty parking space. Harner was at Mercy to see his daughter, who was receiving treatment at Mercy’s Emergency Department. 

Signage at the Mercy Emergency Department entrance indicated weapons were not allowed inside Mercy. Harner testified he had a concealed carry permit and owned a Ruger LCP .380 (“the gun”), which he carried with him for safety on nightly walks and stored in the glovebox or center console of the Jaguar. 

Harner testified the gun was small, fit in a pocket, had no safety, and was chambered and loaded for an emergency but also had a hard pull so it would not fire if stored in a pocket or dropped. In his First Amended Petition, Harner alleged he left the gun in the Jaguar before going inside Mercy to comply with Missouri statute

That Missouri Revised Statutes section 571.107.1(17), applicable to Missouriissued concealed carry permits, explicitly prohibits removal of a firearm from a vehicle when on the premises of “any hospital accessible by the public.” That pursuant to Missouri Revised Statutes section 571.107.1(17), [Harner] left his Ruger LCP 380 pistol in his vehicle when he went into Mercy Hospital Joplin to visit his family member. Harner could not recall if he left the gun in the Jaguar center console or glovebox before entering Mercy. 

Harner testified both the Jaguar center console and glovebox were unlocked but that he had used his key fob to activate the Jaguar car alarm before entering Mercy. Harner testified that, from the time he had bought the Jaguar in 2012, the Jaguar key fob would activate the Jaguar’s alarm and lock the passenger door but not the driver’s door. If the driver’s door was opened while the alarm was activated, the car’s lights would flash continuously and the car’s horn would sound continuously for about one minute.


When Liska entered the Jaguar, Liska set off the Jaguar’s alarm, causing the Jaguar’s lights to flash and horn to honk for fifty-five seconds to one minute. About four minutes later, Liska set off the alarm again, causing the Jaguar’s lights to flash and horn to honk for about twelve seconds. Harner set off the Jaguar’s alarm when he returned to the Jaguar, moments before he was shot by Liska. 

Liska shot Harner in the neck at approximately 9:18 p.m. The bullet injured Harner’s carotid artery and struck his spine, but he survived. After shooting Harner, Liska tried to enter a silver truck parked next to the Jaguar but could not do so. She then entered a black truck parked next to the silver truck before exiting that truck and fleeing Mercy Parking Lot H. Law enforcement later apprehended Liska. 

Liska pleaded guilty to shooting Harner and was sentenced to twenty years in prison. The evidence, consistent with the Case Report, was that Officer Meier instructed Dispatcher Berry to review surveillance video of Mercy Parking Lot H before Liska shot Harner. 

Dispatcher Berry did not review the surveillance video because she felt she did not have time to do so given her other job duties. Dispatcher Berry did not report to Officer Meier or anyone else at Mercy she did not feel she had time to review the surveillance video. There were no entries on Mercy’s internal ReportExec system indicating any additional calls or dispatches between the Wooldridge report and the Harner shooting. 

Dispatcher Berry testified she had just pulled up the surveillance video and started to zoom in when she received notice of the Harner shooting. Dispatcher Berry testified that, before the Harner shooting, she made no attempt to review the video footage to see if she could see someone getting into vehicles in Mercy Parking Lot H. 

Dispatcher Berry testified she changed the Case Report after receiving notice of the Harner shooting and before closing out the Case Report to add “I was trying to find video footage” and that she used “poor wording” in light of what she actually did. 

Dispatcher Berry agreed she “never at any time before [Harner] got shot made any attempt to rewind and go back in time to try to find the person who had gotten into the Wooldridges’ vehicle.” Gary Pulsipher (“Pulsipher”), President of Mercy Hospital Joplin at the time of the Harner shooting, testified Dispatcher Berry lied when she prepared the Case Report with the language about reviewing the video without having reviewed the video. 

Pulsipher agreed putting false information in a security report relied upon by others is a serious matter. Pulsipher testified if Dispatcher Berry was asked to review the surveillance video and did not have time, it was his expectation she would let somebody know. 

Dispatcher Berry agreed the surveillance video shows Liska exit the Focus, approach Bennett, and enter the Jaguar, and that the video also shows the Jaguar’s headlights flash two different times when the Jaguar’s alarm was set off twice. 

Dispatcher Berry testified that she might have had time to see these events in the video in the about 40 minutes before the Harner shooting had she viewed the video when instructed to do so by Officer Meier. Berry agreed Mercy’s security system is a state-of-the-art system with multiple cameras, including at least one focused on Mercy Parking Lot H, and that the surveillance video system allows real-time viewing and rewind and fast-forward by the minute or hour or set to a specific time, multiple speeds of review up to 100 speed and zooming in on areas or objects on screen. 

The evidence was that Mercy was destroyed by a tornado in 2011 and was rebuilt and opened in March 2015. The jury viewed the Mercy Parking Lot H surveillance video, and it was admitted into evidence as Exhibit 107. Dispatcher Berry testified she reviewed the video footage after the Harner shooting and saw 14 white vehicles in Mercy Parking Lot H, including the Focus owned by the Wooldridges.

Dispatcher Berry also testified: 

Q. And if you would have rewound and reviewed the video and you noticed [Liska] doing what [Liska] did, you would have contacted an officer and said, hey, please check out this black vehicle up here. It looks like somebody just got out of this white car, wandered around the parking lot and made her way into this car. Check it out, please. You would have done that, wouldn’t you, if you would have known? 

A. In all fairness, sir, yes. 

Harner offered evidence of multiple Mercy Safety & Security Department Policies and Procedures in effect when he was shot and argued Mercy violated those policies after it knew of  the Wooldridge report. The video footage showed no mobile patrols of Mercy Parking Lot H occurred from when Liska entered the lot until three minutes after Liska entered the Jaguar, and Officer Meier testified this violated Mercy Security written policy.

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