For the second time in five weeks, Spokane County is being sued over the use of a Taser stun gun by a sheriff’s deputy.
Daniel Brian Strange seeks $1.5 million and additional unspecified punitive damages and attorney fees in his suit filed Tuesday in Superior Court.
The 36-year-old sales operations manager, who is president of the Mazda RX-7 Club in Spokane, was a passenger in his 1983 Mazda, driven by his girlfriend, Kelly Garber, when their car was stopped last January on the Argonne Road on-ramp to Interstate 90.
During the stop, Strange was hit by two high-voltage probes from the Taser of Deputy Jeff Welton, the suit alleges.
Strange’s attorney, Mary Schultz, of Spokane, said her client was the victim of excessive force after making comments to the deputy that were nothing more serious than “contempt of cop.”
“The result of what was done here shows there is no Taser policy in this county,” Schultz said. “If a deputy claims they’re ‘worried’ about something, it’s open season on anyone. People need to know this when they come into contact with these officers.”
Lt. Gary Smith, with the sheriff’s Office of Professional Standards, said Tuesday he had not seen the new suit and therefore couldn’t comment.
On Oct. 31, Spirit Creager, a 34-year-old single father and house painter, filed a lawsuit after his $5 million damage claim was rejected by county risk managers. Creager was stunned three times with a 50,000-volt Taser after his truck was stopped by sheriff’s Deputy Chad Ruff on Aug. 30, 2004.
Both lawsuits allege Spokane County has inadequate training and flawed policies regarding Taser use by deputies.
“The policy supports and encourages Taser use by deputies if they do not like a citizen’s attitude or demeanor,” the new suit filed by Strange alleges.
It says the sheriff’s deputy made the traffic stop, then approached the driver’s side window and asked to see Garber’s license and the vehicle registration.
Strange, sitting in the passenger seat, removed his seat belt to retrieve the insurance and registration information from the car’s glove box before handing the documents to the driver.
As the paperwork was handed to the deputy, Strange “began inquiring as to why Ms. Garber had been stopped,” the suit says.
The deputy “did not take kindly” to the tone of Strange’s voice and the situation escalated, with the officer “tossing the vehicle registration” back at the plaintiff, the complaint says.
Although the deputy saw Strange remove his seat belt to get the insurance and registration papers, the deputy “then accused the plaintiff of not wearing his seat belt, and demanded the plaintiff’s identification as well,” the suit says.
After Strange complied with the officer’s requests, the deputy “then slammed the driver’s side door of the plaintiff’s classic vehicle on his way to returning to his patrol car.”
At that point, Strange opened the passenger’s door, stood up and “reprimanded the deputy for slamming the driver’s side door” of the plaintiff’s car, the suit says.
“From some distance away, and standing next to his own patrol car, Deputy Welton ordered the plaintiff to get back into his vehicle,” the lawsuit says.
Strange “talked back to the deputy but did comply with the deputy’s demand,” the suit says.
“As the plaintiff turned and began to sit down in his vehicle, Deputy Welton discharged his Taser weapon into (Strange’s) backside.”
The deputy fired a “sustained five-second 50,000-volt Taser burst” at Strange’s back, “knocking him physically out of the car and onto the ground, rendering him momentarily unconscious,” the suit says.
Medics were called, and they removed two Taser probes from the back and buttocks of Strange, who is 6 feet 7 inches tall and weighs 220 pounds. He was then arrested and taken to jail where he was booked on charges of obstructing an officer and resisting arrest.
“There was no probable cause for either charge,” and they both were later dropped by the prosecutor’s office, the suit says.
“The defendant deputy charged the plaintiff with these crimes to justify his improper use of his Taser weapon, so that he could falsely claim that plaintiff was resisting arrest or obstructing the deputy in his duties,” the suit says.
The driver of the vehicle was not cited for any traffic violation that may have justified the stop. Strange spent the night in jail and was released the following day but missed a day of work.
Friends of the plaintiff witnessed the incident and that caused Strange “substantial humiliation, embarrassment and stigmatization,” the suit says.
In another case, an animal rights activist, Christ Anderlik, is asking Spokane County District Court to allow her to file two criminal complaints against two other Spokane County sheriff deputies, Damon Simmons and Ballard Bates, who used their Tasers to kill a Black Angus calf in April.
The animal had escaped from a farm in Greenacres before it was cornered and killed in a grassy area along the Centennial Trail.
The animal was hit with two Tasers for more than 7.5 minutes, according to animal rights attorney Adam P. Karp, of Bellingham. “Few doubt that the calf experienced what would be tantamount to torture,” Karp said in a 10-page statement that included conclusions from animal experts and ethicists.
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