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Sirens & Gavels

Posts tagged: lawsuits

Hospital denies surgical scars say KKK

By KRISTI EATON,Associated Press

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A lawyer for a Rapid City-area hospital being sued by a blind man who says the letters KKK were carved into his stomach during surgery said the accusations were contrived by other people and that every scar “is explained by the medical procedures that he underwent to save his life,” according to court documents filed Wednesday.

Vern Traversie, a 69-year-old Lakota man living on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, filed a federal lawsuit last month against Rapid City Regional Hospital, its board of directors, several physicians and others. He claims he was left with scars on his abdomen in the shape of the three letters following heart surgery last year.

YouTube videos featuring Traversie
went viral in Native American communities earlier this year. In them, Traversie talks about being mistreated at the hospital and shows his abdomen. Although he is blind, Traversie said he was told by others that the scars form the letters.

A May rally in support of Traversie drew hundreds of people, many of whom said his story exemplifies the racism that Native Americans experience in Rapid City. But others said they couldn't make out the letters, including police who investigated his allegations. No criminal charges were filed.

The defendants in the lawsuit said there is no medical evidence to suggest that anyone burned or cut letters into Traversie.

“Every mark on Plaintiff's abdomen is explained by the medical procedures that he underwent to save his life,” Jeffrey Hurd, one of the defendant's lawyers, wrote in response to the lawsuit. “Indeed, the allegations of a 'KKK' scar were apparently created by a group of unqualified people in Plaintiff's home town, who simply discussed why Plaintiff had certain surgical scars.”

The lawyer noted that the people who told Traversie about his scars considered several possibilities, including a single “K,” a bite mark, the word “oink,” or four “K''s, before settling on the three-letter acronym.

“After reaching this decision through speculation and conjecture, and with no attempt to consult with Plaintiff's healthcare providers … they told Plaintiff that he had been victimized,” Hurd wrote.

The hospital also refutes claims that Traversie was denied pain medication, and noted that he was told to have a home health nurse inspect and care for the incisional wounds after he got home.

Reached by phone at his home Wednesday, Traversie said he could not comment on the case and referred questions to his pastor, Ben Farrar, who is acting as his spokesman. Farrar said he wasn't aware of Wednesday's filing but that he expected the hospital to deny the claims.

Farrar said heart surgery patients can expect to be left with a vertical scar down the sternum and a few horizontal scars where drainage tubes would be inserted — as can be seen in photos of Traversie.

“What we cannot expect is haphazard slashes all over the abdomen as well as some cuts that seem to form letters of the alphabet. This is not what can be considered normal,” Farrar said, adding that Traversie and his attorney will decide what action to take next.

Commenter in lawsuit identifies herself

A woman who claims to have posted a comment on a Spokesman-Review blog that triggered a defamation lawsuit has revealed her identity.

Linda Cook said her suggestion to ask Kootenai County Republican Party chairwoman Tina Jacobson about alleged missing money in the Kootenai County GOP coffers, which Cook posted under the moniker “almostinnocentbystander,” was based on information she’d heard from a board member.

“At the time that I said it, I was convinced that it was not false, and it certainly wasn’t said with malice,” said Cook, who’s active in Kootenai County politics and was an aide to the late Idaho Congressman Helen Chenoweth-Hage.

Read the rest of my story here.

Judge orders SR to help ID commenter

The Spokesman-Review must provide information that could identify an anonymous reader who typed a disparaging online comment about the chairwoman of the Kootenai County Republican Party in February, an Idaho judge ruled Tuesday.

The attorney for the chairwoman, Tina Jacobson (pictured), subpoenaed information about the identities of three Huckleberries Online readers who commented under assumed names below a photograph featuring Jacobson.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

Join the discussion about the ruling at Dave Oliveria's Huckleberries blog.

Past coverage:

June 1: Idaho judge considers anonymous comments lawsuit

Lawsuit filed over ‘09 police shooting

Spokane police and sheriff's investigators examine the scene and cover the body of Jason Poss, who was shot on July 10, 2009. (SRphoto/Jesse Tinsley)

A federal lawsuit has been filed by the parents of a man shot and killed by Spokane police in 2009 after he attacked a woman with a skateboard and stabbed a dog.

The suit alleges that either Spokane police Officer Kellee Gately or Officer Jason Curtis fired the fatal bullet – testing apparently was not able to determine the gun of origin – after 23-year-old Jason Poss had already been shot once, knocked down and disarmed of his knife.

The suit alleges that Gately and Curtis violated Poss’ civil rights by using “excessive force, deadly force, and/or inadequate training.”

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

Past coverage:

July 10, 2009: Spokane police kill knife-wielding man

TSA settles lawsuit from prosecutor

The Transportation Security Administration has paid Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen $225,000 for medical bills resulting from a fall in 2008 during an airport screening.

Rasmussen, who walked with a cane following childhood polio, filed a lawsuit seeking $1 million in 2010 following an incident on April 4, 2008, at the Spokane International Airport. As he was being screened, Rasmussen alleged that he was told to sit but didn’t know a chair had been pulled away. As a result he fell, causing back and hip injuries.

Rasmussen said government attorneys disputed the hip injuries but agreed the fall caused back injuries, which in turn required surgery. Since the fall, Rasmussen often now relies on wheelchair for mobility, he said.

The case went to mediation and an agreement was reached in May, but order for negotiated dismissal wasn’t entered until this week.
  

Jury clears deputy of excessive force

A North Idaho jury has cleared a Bonner County Sheriff’s deputy against allegations that he used excessive force during a DUI arrest following a crash with injuries on the road to Schweitzer Mountain Resort.

 The jury on Friday determined that Deputy Clint Mattingley did not use excessive force during the DUI arrest of Joel W. Petty on March 8, 2008. Mattingley was successfully defended by attorney Peter Erbland of Spokane. Petty was represented by attorney Greg Devlin, also of Spokane.

 At issue was Mattingley’s handcuffing of Petty after the deputy responded to an injury accident. According to court records, Petty had an ordor of alcohol and failed a field sobriety test. Petty alleged Mattingley used excessive force and caused a rotator cuff injury when the deputy handcuffed him. But the jury did not agree.

Troopers in Chism case not punished

The two Washington State Patrol troopers whose botched child pornography investigation cost taxpayers $2.4 million have been transferred off a sex crimes unit but have not faced any discipline for providing false information to a judge.

WSP Sgt. John Sager and Trooper Rachel Gardner are back on patrol and will not be placed on what’s known as a “Brady” list for officers known to have lied on the job, WSP spokesman Bob Calkins said.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

WSP settles Chism lawsuit for $2.4mil

A botched search for child pornography at the home of a Spokane firefighter will cost Washington taxpayers $2.4 million.

 The Washington State Patrol and the attorney for Spokane Fire Department Lt. Todd Chism have settled a lawsuit stemming from the January 2008 search of Chism’s home that found nothing.

Chism and his attorney, Bob Dunn, had filed a $10 million suit against the WSP, which arrested Chism on the charge of child pornography possession. However, the investigation soon revealed that purchase was traced to Chism’s wife’s stolen bank card and the Chisms had done nothing wrong.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

Past coverage:

Aug. 18: Jury clears Chism of all charges

April 23, 2010: Chism threatened to kill troopers, WSP said

Jeff Harvey rehired by Spokane police

The Spokane Police Department has re-hired embattled Detective Jeff Harvey even though his lawsuit against the city remains unresolved.

City spokeswoman Marlene Feist said Harvey’s first day back was Monday after he was fired for cause last July by then-Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick.

“We have new leadership in the city and police department,” Feist said, “who may look at it differently than previous leadership. We are also looking at what our legal exposure is.”

Read the rest of the story here.

Past coverage:

Sept. 22: Charge against detective dropped

July 16: Fired detective files $10 million claim

July 15: SPD detective fired for 'troubled history'

Feb. 10: SPD detective accused of obstruction

Mediation set in Zehm police lawsuit

A federal judge has set a two-day mediation session to settle the $14.5 million civil suit filed against nine Spokane Police officers by the mother and estate of Otto Zehm.

U.S. District Court Judge Lonny Suko issued an order directing the Zehm family attorneys, City Attorney Nancy Isserlis and lawyers representing the city’s insurance carrier to meet on May 14 and 15. The parties apparently have agreed to allow U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan from Oregon to oversee those mediation sessions.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

$300k verdict in sheriff’s negligence case

A jury awarded an Airway Heights man $300,000 in federal court after he sued a Spokane County Sheriff’s Office deputy over a traffic stop that ended with the man being tackled to the pavement.

The jury found that Deputy Dale Moyer was negligent in calling in the wrong license plate number when he stopped a car in which John W. Jenkins was riding. The number Moyer called in came back as a stolen vehicle.

Jurors did not find that Moyer or Deputy Mark Speer used excessive force against Jenkins.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

Lawsuit says circumcision ‘robbed’ man

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota prison inmate is suing the hospital where he was circumcised as a newborn, saying he only recently became aware that he'd undergone the procedure and that it robbed him of his sexual prowess.

Dean Cochrun, 28, is asking for $1,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. He also asks in the lawsuit that his foreskin be restored “in the hopes I could feel whole again,” though he acknowledged that he didn't expect such a restoration to be anything more than aesthetic.

Cochrun, who is imprisoned in Sioux Falls on a kidnapping conviction, filed the federal lawsuit Friday against Sanford Hospital. Cochrun claims that an “unknown doctor” at the then-named Sioux Valley Hospital misled his mother to believe that the procedure was medically necessary. Cochrun argues that the procedure was unnecessary, unethical and without medical benefit.

“I was recently made aware of the fact that I had been (circumcised) and that … I was robbed of sensitivity during sexual intercourse as well as the sense of security and well-being I am entitled to in my person,” he argued in the lawsuit, adding that neither he nor his partners would “have that sensitivity during sexual intercourse and have a normal sex life.”

Cochrun isn't represented by a lawyer in the lawsuit, which includes a letter from Sanford officials responding to a letter requesting that his foreskin be replaced. Patient relations representative DyAnn Smith replied that Sanford would not pay for the procedure.

“There will be no further correspondence about this matter,” she wrote.

$400k to settle open records lawsuit

Spokane County Commissioners on Tuesday approved a $400,000 settlement in a six-year-old case stemming from an open records request.

The Neighborhood Alliance of Spokane County won on appeal before the state Supreme Court last September, setting the stage for Tuesday’s action.

The alliance in 2005 sought public records to learn whether Steve Harris, the son of former Commissioner Phil Harris, was given a job prior to a formal hiring process. The alliance was seeking evidence of nepotism.

Copies of a seating chart had the names of “Ron and Steve” on one cubicle, and the alliance sought corroborating records to identify the two.

The trial court dismissed a subsequent lawsuit in 2008, but the alliance appealed.

The justices ruled the county did an inadequate search and that the county improperly rejected an alliance request to identify “Ron & and Steve.”

The case was sent back to Lincoln County where it was initially filed to determine penalties under the state’s open records act.

County officials later said the seating chart was a reference to another employee named Steve. However, a plaintiff’s attorney said there were two people named Steve on the chart.

The county’s risk manager estimated that penalties and legal costs under the law could have reached $650,000.

An agenda summary said the Supreme Court essentially gave the alliance a “blank check.” The penalties and lawyer fees have accrued over time.

Tim Connor, communications director for the Center for Justice, which represented the alliance, said in a prepared statement that the settlement is reportedly the third-largest involving public records in the U.S. He cited a state assistant attorney general as the source of that information.

Past coverage:

Sept. 30: Records ruling costly for county

Cell tower info may aid murder probe

Detectives are seeking cellphone tower location information for phones belonging to a Spokane murder victim and two men with romantic ties to her.

 Kimberly Rae Schmidt, 34, was found dead of a gunshot wound to her head Jan. 1 in what the medical examiner's office has ruled a homicide.

According to court documents filed today, a man with whom Schmidt had past romantic ties with told detectives they recently began rekindling their relationship and that he was to spend New Year's Eve with her, but she cancelled about 10:40 p.m.

The man told detectives he knew Schmidt was seeing another man that night, documents say. That man told detectives he last saw Schmidt about 4 a.m. when she was sleeping in her bedroom.  Schmidt's daughter saw the two together earlier that night when they dropped her off at a friend's home for a party.

Both men allowed detectives to review their cellphones. Detectives say the men had “numerous text correspondents” with Schmidt on Dec. 31.

Spokane County sheriff's Detective Mike Drapeau filed search warrants with phone companies last week seeking cell tower information for the three phones that could help him determine where the three were about the time of the murder, according to documents filed today. Results have not been released.

Drapeau said in January that he believes one of the men is a likely suspect.

Schmidt’s mother found Schmidt dead in her home at 37 E. Regina Ave. on Jan. 1. Detectives seized a cloth drawstring bag with a gun barrel sticking out. Drapeau said he believes a .25-caliber semi-automatic handgun was the homicide weapon, but he has to wait for the lab to confirm it.

Detectives also are looking into two civil lawsuits that name Schmidt and scuba diving instructor Daniel R. Arteaga, who both worked part time for the Scuba Center of Spokane. The suits involve two scuba diving accidents; on that left a man dead another that allegedly left a woman with brain damage.

Arteaga and Schmidt were notified about the pending suit two and a half weeks before Schmidt was murdered. Schmidt was expected to be a key witness in the case.

Schmidt, a Spokane native and graduate of Shadle Park High School, worked at Pitney Bowes with Tracy Ader, Tracy Ader, who was killed with her two sons in February by 22-year-old Dustin Gilman, who killed himself.

Past coverage:

Jan. 11: Murder victim's family grateful for support

NJ man to pay millions in lottery lawsuit

Top: Americo Lopes exits the courtroom on Wednesday in Elizabeth, N.J.  A jury found that Lopes had cheated five co-workers out of their share of a $38.5 million lottery jackpot. Below: Plantiffs Carlos Fernandes, right, Candido Silva Jr. shake hands. (AP Photos/The Star-Ledger, Frances Micklow, Pool)

ELIZABETH, N.J. (AP) — Five construction workers in New Jersey, vindicated by a jury, must wait before learning exactly how much they'll share of a $38.5 million Mega Millions jackpot that a co-worker who was part of their lottery pool claimed as his own in 2009.

 A jury in state Superior Court in Elizabeth reached a unanimous verdict on Wednesday that Americo Lopes had cheated the men out of their share of the prize.

The panel rejected the 52-year-old's claims that he had won the jackpot on a personal ticket and not with the ticket that he had bought as part of the lottery pool.

Attorney Rubin Sinins, who represented the five men, said each was awarded $4 million because the jackpot was worth $24 million after Lopes chose the cash option.

However attorney Eric Kahn, who also represented the former colleagues, told The New York Times that details on how much each man would receive and how much each might owe in taxes needed to be worked out.

The men started playing the lottery together in 2007 while they worked for Berto Construction Inc. in Elizabeth.

When Lopes hit the Mega Millions jackpot in November 2009, he told his boss he wouldn't be returning because he needed foot surgery, which he never received. He also filed for unemployment benefits after claiming the $17,433,966 prize after taxes.

His wife, Margarida, testified that her husband finally called one of the men in the group in March 2010 and told him about winning.

“Our clients all feel vindicated” by the verdict, Sinins said. “This has been their position all along; they've been challenged in their position and the jury saw it their way. They are very gratified.”

Lopes left court with his wife shortly after the verdict. Speaking in Portuguese, Lopes said he had been robbed, The Star-Ledger of Newark reported.

His attorney, Michael Mezzacca, was disappointed.

“The fact is Mr. Lopes won the lottery by himself with his own money and numbers that he picked,” Mezzacca told the newspaper.

When the verdict was announced, the five plaintiffs embraced. They told The Star-Ledger they'll continue to play the lottery as a group, but would copy the ticket.

“I have a lot to do,” plaintiff Carlos Fernandez said. “My granddaughter was born yesterday. I have to buy her a present she'll remember.”

Gregoire signs online impersonation law

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Governor Chris Gregoire has signed into a law a bill to help victims of online impersonation pursue lawsuits in civil court.

The bill, signed by the governor Wednesday, passed through both the Washington state House and the Senate unanimously.

Under the law, humiliating, defrauding or threatening others by maliciously impersonating them on social networks or online bulletin boards will be grounds to file a lawsuit.

The measure will not apply to police officers impersonating others online as part of a criminal investigation.

The law will go into effect in June.

No witness tampering in Mehring case

The Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office has declined to charge former Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick and City Attorney Rocky Treppiedi with witness tampering in a wrongful termination case the city eventually lost and is currently on the hook for about $1.5 million in damages and attorneys fees.

The complaint, was filed in October by an attorney for Spokane Police Officer Jay Mehring, alleged that Kirkpatrick and Treppiedi failed to renew a contract of a police psychologist Deanette Palmer after she deemed Mehring fit for duty following allegations the officer threatened to kill his estranged wife.

The allegations came during a messy divorce, and a jury later sided with Mehring and awarded him $722,000 in damages and a judge approved $833,00 in fees to attorney Bob Dunn.

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich asked the Washington State Patrol to investigate and that report was forwarded to Chief Deputy Prosecutor Jack Driscoll for review. Driscoll declined to file charges, according to a news release.

Past coverage:

Nov. 5: Jury awards Mehring $700,000

Oct. 5: Spokane police detective alleges witness tampering

Harvey sues for back pay, damages

Former Spokane police Detective Jeff Harvey filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the department that fired him last year, seeking back pay and damages for emotional, physical and mental “injuries” to be determined at trial.

Harvey’s attorney, Bob Dunn – who recently won a $722,000 jury award and $833,000 in attorney’s fees in similar case involving Office Jay Mehring – pointed the finger at former police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

Murder victim named in 2 scuba lawsuits

Detectives have expanded the criminal investigation into the fatal shooting of a north Spokane mother to include two civil lawsuits naming the victim.

 Each lawsuit involves separate scuba diving accidents; one left a man dead and another allegedly left a woman with brain damage.

Although no arrests have been made in the homicide case, Spokane County sheriff’s Detective Mike Drapeau said he is waiting on evidence to come back from the state crime lab and that investigators have focused on an individual who had been romantically involved with 34-year-old Kimberly R. Schmidt.

Read the rest of the story here.

High court hears Priest Lake EPA fight

Chantell and Mike Sackett talk about their battle with the Environmental Protection Agency over their right to build a home on a lot near Priest Lake on Oct. 19.(SRPhoto/Kathy Plonka) Read Becky Kramer's story here.

By Sean Cockerham,scockerham@mcclatchydc.com

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court appeared sympathetic Monday to an Idaho couple’s fight to build their dream home over the objections of the Environmental Protection Agency, in a case that could have far broader implications and limit the EPA’s ability to regulate developers, energy companies and others.

Justice Samuel Alito said homeowners could relate to the situation of Idahoans Michael and Chantell Sackett.

“Don’t you think most ordinary homeowners would say this kind of thing can’t happen in the United States?” Alito asked the lawyer arguing for the government during oral arguments in the case Monday.

Alito called the EPA’s conduct “outrageous.” Justice Antonin Scalia spoke of the agency’s “high-handedness.”

The broad issue is whether landowners hit by EPA compliance orders should be allowed to immediately sue to overturn those orders, rather than waiting for the EPA to go to court to force compliance.

The case could have far-reaching implications, with environmental groups saying a Sackett victory could allow big corporate polluters to tie up the EPA in court instead of dealing with the problem.

The Sackett case has become a conservative rallying cry, with anti-EPA talk from radio hosts, lawmakers and business groups touting it as an example of an agency run amok. Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo said, “This is what happens when an overzealous federal agency would rather force compliance than give any consideration to private property rights, individual rights, basic decency or common sense.”

The legal storm began after the Sacketts filled in dirt and rock on their property for a home they were building on about a half-acre near scenic Priest Lake in North Idaho.

Officials from the EPA appeared and asked the Sacketts whether they had a permit to fill in wetlands under the Clean Water Act. The EPA subsequently told the Sacketts to “remove all unauthorized fill material” and plant trees and bushes, saying the couple faced potential fines of up to $37,500 a day if they didn’t fully comply with the directive.

The Sacketts dispute the assertion that the land, which is in a subdivision, is really wetlands, and they challenged the EPA’s authority. The conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, which signed on to represent the Sacketts for free, argues landowners should get to challenge EPA compliance orders in court because otherwise they’re just at the mercy of the threat of big fines.

GE, the American Petroleum Institute, the National Association of Home Builders and 10 states filed court briefs in support of the Sacketts, underscoring the potential broad implications of the Idaho couple’s case.

The EPA says directives such as the one the Sacketts received are essentially just warnings with the goal of negotiating a solution. The government says a court challenge shouldn’t be allowed until the EPA actually goes to a judge in an attempt to seek enforcement of the order.

“It is phrased as an order. But the only thing that EPA is authorized to do … is to order people to do what they were already legally required to do. That is, order them to comply with their legal obligations,” Justice Department attorney Malcolm Stewart argued Monday.

A Boise-based trial judge, appointed by President George H.W. Bush, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the EPA’s position in the case. So have the nation’s other four appellate circuits in similar cases.

It’s unusual for the Supreme Court to take up an issue when there has been such unanimous agreement among all the lower courts, leading to speculation that the high court’s conservative majority decided to hear the Idaho couple’s case because it is intent on striking a blow to the powers of the EPA.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in the case might not come until June, but it was clear at Monday’s hearing that justices were skeptical of the EPA’s position. Justice Stephen Breyer said he read the order and that it didn’t seem to him like a warning, but a government demand.

The EPA says the Sacketts should have sought a permit and that the couple did not consult with the agency or the Army Corps of Engineers before filling the land.

The Sacketts say they had no reason to suspect their land would be considered wetlands. An environmental group produced documents under the Freedom of Information Act, though, showing the couple disregarded the opinion of a wetlands expert.

Michael Sackett said Monday after the arguments that the man took just a cursory look at the property, spending less than half an hour and never shoveling down into the ground.

Sackett, who called it a “David versus Goliath” case, said he can’t see how his property, 500 feet from Priest Lake in an existing subdivision with a sewer hookup, can be considered wetlands that demand protection.

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