City to pay Port Angeles man who alleged excessive police force

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — The city will pay a Port Angeles man $125,000 to settle a claim last year alleging that Port Angeles police officers used excessive force in catching him after he had reportedly fled from police on a bicycle.

The settlement agreement came after a mediation session last Friday between city staff and legal representation for 25-year-old Benjamin James Eastman, City Attorney Bill Bloor said Wednesday.

Eastman initially claimed $425,000 in damages in the Jan. 13, 2012, incident in which Eastman sustained a broken leg after crashing his bicycle following a brief pursuit involving several police officers, according to police reports of the incident.

Bloor said city staff felt the $125,000 settlement was the best route, though the city has denied the use of excessive force.

“I think both sides recognized that if they could avoid a lawsuit, that would be desirable,” said Bloor, adding that the claim filed against the city could have eventually lead to a lawsuit.

Port Angeles City Council members approved the settlement unanimously at their regular meeting Tuesday night after holding an executive session to discuss multiple legal matters, including the settlement itself.

Eastman had alleged that Port Angeles police used excessive force when using an electronic stun gun on him while trying to apprehend him in the early morning hours of Jan. 13, 2012, near the intersection of Lincoln and Fifth streets in Port Angeles.

According to police reports of the incident, Port Angeles police Sgt. Jesse Winfield fired his Taser at Eastman from Winfield’s patrol car and struck Eastman while he was reportedly attempting to elude officers.

“When the darts from my Taser struck Eastman in the left shoulder and lower back, he lost control of his bicycle and crashed,” Winfield wrote in his narrative of the incident.

Eastman suffered a broken leg because of the crash and was transported to Olympic Medical Center for treatment.

Eastman initially was cited for obstructing a public servant, a gross misdemeanor, though the case was dismissed in Clallam County District Court in May 2012, according to court records.

The city will pay $100,000 of the settlement amount out of $150,000 the city set aside for 2013 for handling damage claims, city Chief Financial Officer Byron Olson said, while the remaining $25,000 will be paid for by the Washington Cities Insurance Authority, a statewide insurance pool that manages polices for 125 cities including Port Angeles.

Police reports in the case gave this account:

Port Angeles police officers first attempted to stop Eastman at about 5 a.m. Jan. 13 as he was riding west on the sidewalk near the 100 block of Eighth Street after officers saw he was not wearing a helmet nor had any sort of light on his bicycle.

Eastman then lead three Port Angeles police officers in their patrol cars, lights flashing, through alleyways along Lincoln and Laurel streets between Ninth and Fifth streets before Winfield pulled up along side Eastman on Lincoln Street just south of Fifth Street and told him to stop multiple times before using his Taser on him.

In a Wednesday interview, Port Angeles Police Chief Terry Gallagher said the officers were well within their rights to pursue Eastman though declined to say if he thought using the Taser was appropriate until the legal case is completely closed.

“I consider this a rare occurrence, “ Gallagher said, referring to the claim and settlement involving the actions of Port Angeles police officers.

“We don’t acknowledge any wrongdoing, but on the other hand we believe this is a case we don’t want to move forward with in the courtroom,” Gallagher added.

It’s not uncommon for officers to stop individuals riding bicycles without helmets or lights, especially if it’s dark outside, Gallagher said, adding that officers trying to speak to people in these circumstances is typical.

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: May 22. 2013 9:41PM
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