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Liberty Lake homeowner claims he was attacked in car repo dispute

A confrontation with a repo man turned Feb. 10, 2010, into an expensive and painful day for resident Franklin Duncan.

He broke his finger, was pepper-sprayed in the face and later shocked by police with a stun gun – all on his own property within a gated Liberty Lake golf community.

The entire episode has now spiraled into federal court, where a trial is unfolding this week.

Exactly what happened outside the $800,000 home of Duncan, the inventor of a fishing lure, depends on whom you ask.

Duncan says he was brutalized by police officers and assaulted by repo man Victor Grant, who drove a tow truck into Duncan’s driveway to haul away a luxury sedan owned by Duncan’s son.

Duncan says he attempted to make a citizen’s arrest.

Grant’s version implies that Duncan assaulted his girlfriend and attempted to choke him before police – including Liberty Lake Chief Brian Asmus – arrived. Police say Duncan disobeyed their commands and brought on the injuries himself.

Now a jury will decide who should pay for the injuries.

Grant said he showed up at Duncan’s home along King James Lane, an exclusive drive where homes open onto the fairway of the 10th hole of MeadowWood Golf Course. He was sent to repossess a 1997 Audi A8 owned by Duncan’s son Nathaniel.

The situation quickly grew heated. Duncan said Grant intentionally crushed his hand with the tow truck’s winch as he hooked up the Audi. So he tried to initiate a citizen’s arrest by snatching the keys from the tow truck’s ignition. Grant said the finger injury was Duncan’s fault.

Duncan claims at some point during the fracas that Grant leveled a gun at him. Grant denies the accusation, and police said Duncan alleged the holdup only after officers told him Grant had been concealing a pistol in his waistband throughout the encounter.

After taking witness statements, responding officers – including Asmus, who’s served as chief of the force since its inception in 2001 – told Duncan he would be arrested on charges of vehicle prowling and assault. Duncan resisted arrest, police said, and he was eventually subdued with a stun gun and handcuffs. The charges against Duncan were later dismissed.

Duncan and his family first sought reimbursement from Liberty Lake for medical bills totaling less than $20,000 and lost wages that he claimed totaled millions of dollars.

The city of Liberty Lake rejected his claim.

The Duncans took their battle to court, initiating a protracted legal fight.

During testimony to the seven-member jury Tuesday, Nathaniel Duncan described pleading with his father to stop resisting – even as the older man lay face down with police trying to handcuff him. Nathaniel Duncan’s delayed payment on the Audi, 40 days past due according to his statement to police, prompted the tow by Grant, who said the gate to the neighborhood was open when he drove to the home.

Nathaniel Duncan told police he was taking a check for the car’s monthly payment to a lender in Spokane when he found Grant attempting to tow his car from the driveway. The check was written by Franklin Duncan, covering the car payment after his son was laid off.

Washington state law allows repossession of a vehicle in a driveway as long as no laws are broken by the agent. The Duncans claim Grant was disturbing the peace as he hitched the Audi to his truck.

“I heard, ‘Dad, stop or they’re going to shoot you,’ ” Asmus recalled Nathaniel saying as officers tried to pin Franklin Duncan’s rigid arms behind him in the street. “At that point he (Franklin Duncan) stopped.”

U.S. District Judge Thomas Rice has already ruled police had probable cause to detain Duncan and threw out claims that his civil rights were violated.

Testimony in the trial has instead centered on the use of force and the confrontation leading to the arrest.

When Liberty Lake police Sgt. Clint Gibson arrived on scene, he learned Duncan’s left ring finger was broken and that Grant had used pepper spray after Duncan attempted to shove him away from the Audi, according to the officer’s sworn statement. Asmus testified Tuesday that Gibson used his stun gun twice on Duncan in the “dry stun” mode, a setting that requires the officer to thrust the device at the target rather than firing electrified probes from a distance.

Duncan is seeking damages for physical and emotional effects of the episode. He testified Thursday he suffers nightmares prompted by the incident that cause him to thrash awake, and he rarely goes out in public because the sight of uniformed officers triggers sobbing episodes.

“I can’t stop it,” Duncan said on the stand. “I just can’t stop it.”

Both Liberty Lake and Grant say Duncan is responsible for his own injuries, and Grant has asked the court to consider awarding him damages for injuries sustained during the fight in a counterclaim against Duncan. Responding officers observed red marks on Grant’s neck that led them to believe Duncan had attempted to choke the tow truck driver.

Duncan, who is a sketch artist and owns several patents on fishing lure devices, moved into the home with his family in the 700 block of North King James Lane in 2003, according to county records.

Jurors are expected to hear from multiple witnesses, including medical experts, before deciding who must pay.