A federal judge ruled this morning that the city of Spokane will not be on the hook if a civil suit proceeds against former Spokane Police Officer James “Jay” Olsen, who shot Shonto Pete in the head during a drunken chase in February 2007.
Federal judge Edward F. Shea ruled in favor of a motion brought by Assistant City Attorney Ellen O’Hara seeking to sever the city from the case. O’Hara argued that Olsen was off duty at the time and never identified himself as a police officer during the Feb. 26, 2007, chase that ended with Olsen shooting Pete in the head.
“I have great sympathy for Mr. Pete and the grievous wrong that Mr. Olsen did to him,” Shea said. “Nevertheless, I grant the city’s motion … Mr. Olsen was not acting under the color of law.”
In December 2009, Pete filed a $750,000 claim against the city, citing a violation of his civil rights. A jury acquitted Pete, 30, of criminal charges that he stole Olsen’s truck. And a year ago, a Spokane jury acquitted Olsen of first-degree assault and reckless endangerment in connection to the shooting.
Pete said today that he must consult with his Seattle and Chicago civil attorneys before deciding to appeal Shea’s ruling. If it stands, it means that Pete can only seek monetary penalties from Olsen in any future civil proceedings.
“I think it’s just another blow, not just to me but to the citizens of Spokane,” Pete said. “Justice is really hard to get.”
Olsen, 46, did not comment after the hearing. His attorney, Rob Cossey, said the former police officer “doesn’t have much” to go after as part of the ongoing litigation.
He quit the force last April before Chief Anne Kirkpatrick could decide whether to fire him for his actions. As a result of his acquittal, the city had to pay Olsen $153,000 for the time he was placed on unpaid layoff status following his arrest.
Pete said he’s got about $20,000 in medical bills and $18,000 in attorney fees he must pay. The only money Pete said he’s received is a $10.12 check for testifying as a witness at his own trial.
“I’m stuck with $38,000 in bills over a drunken man’s rage with a gun shooting up a town. My life is more important than money, but (the bills) make life harder,” he said. “It’s his fault … and he gets all the reward.”