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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.
  

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

$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

Fatal crash leads to ‘substantial’ payout

The family of a 9-year-old girl killed in a car crash that led to an infraction against the stop-sign running driver will receive a “substantial” amount of money in an out-of-court lawsuit settlement, their lawyer says.

Olivia Chaffin (pictured) died June 10, 2010, after a pizza delivery driver who was slightly speeding ran a stop sign and crashed into her parents' vehicle. Her grandmother, Shirley Chaffin, broke her neck.

The driver, Echo Henderson, received a $500 ticket for negligent driving. Spokane County prosecutors said the girl's father, Richard Chaffin also was speeding and that running a stop sign, while a bad driving error, is not criminally negligent.

The Chaffins sued for wrongful death and personal injury, and four insurance companies, including Argo for Westside Pizza and Progressive for Henderson, settled out of court on Thursday “for the maximum amount of available insurance,” lawyer James Sweetster said in a news release. Details are confidential. The

Chaffins were driving to Olivia's school play when the crash occurred at Monroe and Hazard roads in north Spokane County. The girl's organs were donated.

An 11-year-old boy received her heart, two sisters in their 60s in Spokane received her kidneys, an unknown recipient revived her corneas and a Philadelphia woman in her 50s receive one of her lungs.

A soccer tournament names in Olivia's honor is to be an annual event.

Her parents, who are teachers in the Mead School District, have pleaded 10,000 to start a scholarship for underprivileged girls who play sports. Sweetser is donating $5,000.

County to pay $230k in jail mail lawsuit

Spokane County will pay $230,000 to settle a lawsuit over restrictions on jail inmates’ mail.

County commissioners and Sheriff’s Office officials also agreed Tuesday to abandon a policy of requiring messages from friends and families of prisoners to be written on postcards.

A consent decree negotiated with Prison Legal News also will prohibit other mail policies that county officials dropped less than a month after PLN filed suit Jan. 21.

Read the rest of John Craig's story here.

Past coverage:

March 2: Jail changes postcards-only policy

$260k to woman strip-searched in jail

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — The city of Olympia has agreed to pay $260,000 to a woman strip-searched and zapped with a stun gun in the city jail.

Cynthia Brown's lawyer Edwin Budge calls the agreement “vindication to some degree.”

While settling, the city denies liability. Its outside counsel for the case, Donald Law, says the city accomplished its primary goal, which was to “reach a fair settlement with Cynthia Brown.”

Brown had sued the city in September, alleging her civil rights were violated and that the strip search was illegal.

The Olympian says public documents show Brown was arrested and taken to the jail on Aug. 19, 2008, on a misdemeanor trespassing accusation, which was later dismissed. Records show Brown refused an order to strip to her underwear without a female officer present, then was shot with a Taser. She then removed her clothes.

The newspaper says the city changed jail booking procedures related to strip searches as a result of the case.

Asbestos victims consider $43M deal

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BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — More than 1,100 victims of asbestos contamination are nearing a $43 million settlement over claims that Montana health officials failed to warn miners about the hazards of a deadly vermiculite mine, documents in the case show.

Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands sickened following decades of exposure to asbestos from the now-shuttered W.R. Grace & Co. mine in the small northwestern Montana town of Libby.

Claimant notices obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday show at least 1,125 victims are considering a deal that calls for payments ranging from $21,500 to the $60,700, depending on the severity of sickness. Attorneys in the case would get one-third of the $43 million, which would be subtracted from victim payments.

Terms of the deal were first reported by the Daily Inter Lake.

In 2004, the Montana Supreme Court said the state should have warned miners about hazards first identified by state officials in Libby in the 1950s. Attorneys for the state and victims have since been negotiating terms of a monetary settlement under which state agencies would be released from future liability.

Those negotiations stem from multiple lawsuits brought against the state asserting it failed to protect victims in Libby.

Attorney Tom Lewis, whose Great Falls firm represents some of the victims, said he could not comment on the settlement.

“The people of Libby have been waiting a long time. We've been working on this case a long time,” Lewis said. “I can't comment on ongoing litigation because it's not ethical for me to do so.”

Lewis added that claimants “have to keep quiet until this goes through the proper process.”

The Libby mine closed in 1999, and more than $300 million has been spent on a cleanup that is expected to go on for years.

W.R. Grace & Co. escaped most liability when it filed for bankruptcy after the extent of contamination was revealed.

One claimant in the state settlement said he was not satisfied with the terms but signed anyway to move on and be done with the lingering litigation. People involved in the case have been told by lawyers not to speak publicly about the case while settlement talks are ongoing, and the man spoke on condition of anonymity because he was worried about jeopardizing claims made by other members of his family.

Past coverage:

Feb. 11, 2007: Vermiculite mining in Libby left trouble in the air

Settlement approved for ‘donkey kick’ jail death

The Spokane County Commission unanimously approved a $425,000 settlement today for the children of a man who died following a struggle with jailers.

Benites S. Sichiro suffered multiple Taser shocks, was beaten unconscious and struck with jailer’s “donkey kick” before the 39-year-old died of a lacerated liver on Jan. 29, 2006.

Read Thomas Clouse’s story here.