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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Jury rules deputies did not use excessive force in arrest that resulted in the death of William Berger

A federal jury has found that two Spokane County deputies did not use excessive force while tasing and using a neck restraint on William Berger outside a South Hill gym in 2013. Berger lost consciousness and later died.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich released a short statement about the verdict Wednesday. “I appreciate the jury’s time and deliberations,” he said. “This is exactly why I feel that cases like this should go to trial, where a jury can see and hear all the facts before rendering their decision.”

The jury sent an unusual note to U.S. District Court Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson at 2 p.m. Tuesday asking if they could enter a statement into the record. “While the jury exonerate Deputy (Shawn) Audie and Deputy (Steve) Paynter from the charge of using excessive force during William Berger’s arrest, we have reservations regarding the actions of Deputy Audie on June 6, 2013.”

Peterson replied that the jury could not enter a statement into the record. They announced their verdict in favor of the deputies at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The two deputies were called for a disturbance at Oz Fitness near the corner of 55th Avenue and Regal Street. Witnesses described Berger’s behavior as strange and he was asked to leave. Someone called 911 to report that he was outside in the street and appeared to be swinging at cars as they passed by.

Paynter and Audie both tasered Berger and as they struggled to control him, Audie used a controversial neck hold that caused Berger to lose consciousness. They realized Berger wasn’t breathing after they handcuffed him.

The Spokane County Medical Examiner later determined that Berger died of oxygen deprivation to the brain and rule his death a homicide. The Spokane County Prosecutor decided not to file any criminal charges against the deputies.

Berger’s family sued the deputies in federal court.

Neither attorney involved in the case returned a call seeking comment Wednesday.