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Man punched by Meridian police officer suffered fracture, trauma. Now he seeks relief

Mersades Seward describes watching the video of her husband, Colt James Seward, getting punched in the face while being arrested by Meridian police.  (Darin Oswald)
By Alex Brizee Idaho Statesman

BOISE – Colt Seward said he still can’t fully remember what happened to him when he was arrested last year.

The May 2023 incident garnered public scrutiny when a video captured by a bystander showed Meridian Police Officer Donald Heida punching the 32-year-old at least half a dozen times in the face and head. More than a year later, that arrest continues to have lasting impacts as the family weighs legal action.

Seward suffered a broken bone by his right eye, medical records obtained by the Idaho Statesman showed. In an interview with the Statesman, Seward said he’s undergone reconstructive surgery to place a prosthetic in his face to hold up his eye, had a traumatic brain injury and still deals with blurred vision and numbness on the right side of his face. He has spasms, anxiety and memory problems stemming from the beating he took during the arrest, he said.

“This shouldn’t have happened,” Seward said in a video interview from the Ada County Jail. “It shouldn’t have happened.”

Seward, through his attorneys, filed a tort claim against the Meridian Police Department, alleging that Heida struck Seward with “excessive and unreasonable” force. Seward is seeking payment for any past and future medical expenses along with other damages, including lost wages, disfigurement, mental health problems and “reduced quality of life.”

Police arrested Seward on suspicion of driving under the influence after somebody contacted the Meridian Police Department about a driver passed out in traffic, and while he was in the back of the patrol car, Seward slipped his handcuffs, police said. When officers went to recuff Seward, they said he struck one officer with his elbow, and two officers then forced him to the ground – with Heida striking him at least eight times.

His wife, Mersades Seward, said Colt’s medical expenses have totaled around $100,000. They also created a GoFundMe to help pay for legal expenses, with a goal of $20,000.

Zander Engeman, of Boise-based Attorneys of Idaho, and Seward’s civil attorney said they are still in the negotiation phase after filing the tort claim, but their next step would be to file a lawsuit if they aren’t able to settle things out of court. Lawsuits must be filed within two years of the incident.

“I understand police have a dangerous job,” Engeman told the Statesman. “But this situation felt like it went above and beyond what was needed to control the situation.”

Seward accused of battering officer

Since the arrest, Colt Seward has been in and out of jail. As of Tuesday, he was unable to bail out on a $250,000 bond after failing to appear at a hearing, court records showed. Mersades Seward said her husband’s continued incarceration has made it difficult for him to work through the pain and trauma he sustained. The arrest also affected their 6-year-old daughter, she added.

She said she struggles to understand why Heida didn’t face any consequences given her husband’s injuries, and gets angrier about it when she watches the footage.

Heida, who is no longer a Meridian police officer, didn’t respond to a call or text seeking comment for this story.

When Seward was on his way to one of his court hearings last year, he thought he saw Heida walking up behind him at the Ada County Courthouse, and it caused him to panic, his wife said.

Colt is “the hero of the family,” Mersades Seward told the Statesman. “So to see him like really kind of nervous and scared of cops is very heartbreaking.”

Seward was charged with several crimes, including one that accused him of battering Heida by elbowing him in the chest. Meanwhile, investigators determined that Heida violated no department policies, and he remained on duty.

Meridian Police Chief Tracy Basterrechea said Heida and an accompanying officer in the incident, Sean McDonald, were “within policy.” While striking someone isn’t “encouraged,” he added, it’s allowed. The agency is always looking for “more effective ways” to train their officers, Basterrechea said.

“We support our officers in this use of force, and I will emphasize these incidents don’t happen if the suspect cooperates or at least complies with an officer’s legal commands,” Basterrechea told the Statesman last year.

Heida joined the department in April 2021. In December, he was part of an internal affairs investigation after he failed to inform Meridian police that he was charged with two misdemeanors. He has since left the department, according to court documents obtained by the Statesman.

Stephany Galbreaith, a spokesperson for the department, said in an email that Heida’s departure was unrelated to the internal investigation but declined to provide more details. She declined to answer additional questions about when Heida left the department and whether he had been fired or resigned.

Galbreaith also initially declined to even disclose Heida’s employment status. She acknowledged his departure in a follow-up email only after the Statesman confirmed it through court records. Seward’s defense attorney, Justine Parker, also learned Heida had left the department through court records, prompting her to request additional information about the internal investigation.

‘I didn’t even hit you’: Body-cam footage shows use of force

An initial video, captured by a bystander, of Seward’s arrest showed Heida punching him half a dozen times. But a portion of the body-camera footage, which was provided to the Statesman by Seward’s family, showed Heida striking Seward at least two more times before bringing him to the ground – a fact that wasn’t previously disclosed by the department.

The two-minute portion of the footage, which showed the use of force, corroborated the 25-second video posted on X by a Boise-based Black Lives Matter group, and revealed new details about Heida’s use of force.

Heida responded to the intersection of North Ten Mile and West Ustick roads just before 5:30 p.m. May 16, 2023, after someone contacted authorities about a driver “passed out in traffic,” according to the Meridian Police Department. Seward told admitted to falling asleep in his car, he told the Statesman.

After Seward failed a sobriety test, he was arrested and placed in the back of Heida’s police car, where police said he slipped off his cuffs. The footage, taken from McDonald’s body camera, showed the officers trying to again handcuff Seward behind his back when Seward pulled his left hand away. Heida then pushed Seward, face first, into the open patrol vehicle and hit him at least two times, with Seward repeatedly saying, “I didn’t even hit you.” The men eventually fell to the ground in a struggle, according to the footage.

While on the ground, Heida, with his knee on Seward’s neck for part of it – Seward was pinned to the pavement – yelled at Seward to give him his hand, and punched him six times.

“He strikes me again,” Seward told the Statesman, recounting his arrest. “He strikes me again and again.” Seward said he thinks Heida struck him 12-14 times.

In the seconds after the encounter, while Heida’s knee remained on Seward’s back and a trail of blood streamed from Seward’s face, he told Heida that the officer had “no reason” to hit him like that, according to the body-cam footage.

“I have a daughter, I work for a living,” Seward said in the footage, lying prone on the ground next to a Maverick gas station. “I need an ambulance right now.”

Seward said he was on his way to pick up his daughter when the arrest happened. He told the Statesman that the arrest altered people’s view of him.

“I’m not a bad person,” he said, choking up.

‘Heida’s credibility will be a central issue’

Last November, Heida took a hunting trip in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, northwest of Challis, and killed a mule deer in an area where he didn’t have a controlled hunting tag, according to court documents. Heida’s tag was for the adjacent area, and he was cited for two misdemeanors by Idaho Fish and Game.

Six months later, in May, court records showed that Heida pleaded guilty to possession or transporting improperly tagged wildlife and was granted a withheld judgment, meaning the court could vacate his conviction if he followed the terms of his probation.

Fourth District Magistrate Judge Adam Dingeldein, who handles all magistrate cases in Valley County, revoked Heida’s hunting license for a year and ordered that he pay more than $4,000 in fees and restitution, according to court records. Heida was also barred from assisting other hunters.

Heida didn’t report the incident to the Meridian Police Department. Officers in Idaho are required to notify their agencies within five days of being charged with a felony or misdemeanor. If they don’t, they can be decertified – or barred from working in law enforcement – by the Idaho Peace Officers Standards and Training Council.

Meridian investigated Heida and found that he’d brought “discredit to the agency” by failing to report the incident and for “dishonest or disgraceful conduct,” according to a discovery disclosure by the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office.

Idaho Post Division Administrator Brad Johnson said by email that he couldn’t comment on “whether any officer is the subject of an investigation” and pointed the Statesman to the agency’s decertification database. Heida hasn’t been decertified, according to that database.

Parker, the public defender representing Seward in his criminal case, filed a motion to compel, asking the judge to force Ada County prosecutors to turn over additional documents regarding the Meridian police internal investigation into Heida.

In a memorandum, Parker noted that Heida was the primary officer during Seward’s arrest and that he “repeatedly struck” Seward in the face.

“Heida’s credibility will be a central issue in this case,” Parker said.

Fourth District Judge Patrick Miller has scheduled a hearing on Parker’s motion for July 22, according to court records.