Spirit Creager, a 34-year-old single father and painter of custom homes, is suing Spokane County for excessive force, emotional distress and false arrest resulting from a traffic stop two years ago where he was repeatedly Tasered by a sheriff’s deputy.
Spokane attorney Carl Oreskovich named the county and Deputy Chad Ruff as defendants in the lawsuit filed Tuesday on behalf of Creager and his son, Joshua, 13, who witnessed the altercation from Creager’s truck on the night of Aug. 30, 2004.
Creager’s $5 million civil-rights claim, submitted to the Spokane County Risk Management Department in August, was recently denied – clearing the way for the Spokane Superior Court litigation.
In a June 25 Spokesman-Review story, Creager said the incident left him unable to sleep, work or function normally for months and also emotionally harmed his son. He said he decided to speak out after reading about the death of Otto Zehm, the janitor who was Tasered and beaten at a Spokane convenience store by Spokane police officers. The two men did not know each other.
“I’ve never been so scared in my life,” Creager said about being Tasered three times in front of his son, his girlfriend and her small daughter after they were stopped on Dartford Road north of the city after working late on a house remodeling project.
In his report on the incident, Deputy Ruff said he told Creager he had a burned-out taillight and a suspended license and ordered him out of the truck. Ruff said Creager looked like he’d been drinking, became angry and tried to hit him. Ruff said he delivered three jolts from his stun gun after Creager resisted being handcuffed.
But Creager and his girlfriend, Mattie Whitney, said Ruff was strangely aggressive for a traffic stop and didn’t tell them why they were being detained. A second officer ordered her out of the car at gunpoint and kicked away her cell phone. “Something wasn’t right,” Whitney said in an interview last summer.
The suit claims that Spokane County has failed to provide adequate training for its officers in the use of Tasers and has also failed to discipline deputies who use the 50,000-volt weapons improperly. It also claims that Ruff never advised Creager he was under arrest or provided any reason for his detention.
“In point of fact, no cause existed for Deputy Ruff to detain or search Mr. Creager,” the complaint says.
Jim Emacio, Spokane County’s chief civil deputy, and Sheriff’s Department spokesman Dave Reagan declined comment Wednesday.
“Nobody is going to say anything if it’s going to a lawsuit,” Reagan said.
After his arrest in 2004, Creager, who had no criminal convictions, spent three days in jail. His counselors later told him in a diagnosis that the incident triggered nightmares and other post-traumatic stress symptoms that disrupted his life. Since the incident, Creager said his son has exhibited an extreme fear of law enforcement officials.
In “Use of Force” reports obtained by the newspaper, Ruff’s supervisors concluded his use of the Taser to stun Creager three times was “reasonable under the circumstances.”
But they also said Ruff, a deputy since 2001, failed to tell Creager he was under arrest – invalidating a resisting arrest charge. That lapse had been “previously discussed in earlier use-of-force incidents with Deputy Ruff,” according to Rick Van Leuven, the shift commander.
Creager was arrested for obstructing an officer, resisting arrest and driving under the influence. But his Breathalyzer reading showed his alcohol levels were 0.058 and 0.06 – well below the 0.08 legal limit. On Oct. 15, 2004, the DUI and resisting arrest charges were dropped on a motion of the Spokane County prosecutor. Creager pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstructing an officer.