PORT TOWNSEND — A man who accuses a Port Townsend police officer of breaking his wrist in 2014 is now suing the officer, the police department and the city in federal court.
Stephen Patch, a retired reporter, said Friday that before Officer Patrick Fudally took him to the ground in 2014 while responding to a reported assault, he thought he had a good relationship with local police.
“It was very shocking and — quite frankly — it was the first time I really thought I could die,” said Patch, who still lives part-time in Port Townsend. “I didn’t ever think of being in jeopardy like that.”
Police Chief Michael Evans and City Attorney Steve Gross both declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing city policy against commenting on litigation.
As of Friday the city had not formally responded to the lawsuit.
Patch is suing Fudally, PTPD and the City of Port Townsend for negligence, negligent supervision and training and for deprivation of rights.
He said in the lawsuit that Fudally did not report the incident accurately.
Patch, who previously worked for the Mason County Journal, Tri-City Herald and, most recently, the Port Townsend Leader, had moved into a Port Townsend apartment in 2012 with his son who was physically disabled by tetraplegia and suffered from emotional disabilities, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit was originally filed in Jefferson County Superior Court in November, but was transferred to U.S. District Court in Tacoma in December.
Between 2012 and 2014, Patch would call police for help when his son’s behavior became belligerent and unmanageable, the lawsuit says.
“The police have often been called,” said Patch’s attorney, Chalmers Johnson. “In the past they had been very helpful.”
The lawsuit stems from an incident on Dec. 2, 2014. Police responded to investigate a report that Patch’s son had assaulted him.
When Fudally arrived at the apartment, Patch, who was outside, told him nothing had happened and that he was fine, records say.
As a caregiver let Fudally in the door, Patch punched the wall from the outside, according to police reports and the lawsuit.
“As I walked back outside Stephen was talking in an aggressive tone about us ‘storming’ the home,” Fudally wrote in his report. “I could see his hands were clenched into fists.”
The lawsuit claims that Patch’s hands were not clenched into fists and that he lightly punched the wall, not causing any damage to the wall or injury to his hand.
A video the city provided to the Peninsula Daily News has audio, often muddy, but no visual.
Patch said in an interview Friday that officers approached him so quickly he didn’t have time to ignore or comply with officers’ orders to calm down.
Fudally wrote in his report that he felt Patch needed to be handcuffed before he attacked someone. Officers wrote in reports that Patch had clenched fists after he punched the wall.
“That’s ludicrous,” Patch said in the Friday interview. “That’s not true.”
When Fudally took Patch to the ground, he heard a crack, he wrote in his report.
“Once he had broken [Patch’s] wrist and smashed his face into the concrete, Officer Fudally, still lying on top of the injured man, used one hand to grab [Patch] by the head and force [his] face into the concrete walkway and into the pool of [Patch’s] blood,” the lawsuit alleges.
In the video Fudally is heard immediately requesting a supervisor.
A couple of minutes later, Patch in heard in the video telling an officer “I know you did what you had to do.”
Johnson said Patch is the kind of person who “when someone has just broken his arm and beat him up, he’s going to try to make peace.”
Police never developed probable cause that an assault had happened, according to police reports. Police recommended Patch be charged with obstructing a law enforcement officer, but City Prosecuting Attorney Johanna Vanderlee declined to charge him.
“Stephen Patch did obstruct this investigation of a [domestic violence] incident, but since the obstructing was quickly ended and it did not cause injury to [the reporting party] or to officers, I am declining to charge at this time,” she wrote in her decision.
Johnson said Patch had nearly $60,000 in medical expenses.
On Oct. 5, 2015, Johnson sent a letter to the city requesting a $250,000 settlement, which he said was a small amount compared to other amounts awarded in similar cases.
The Washington Cities Insurance Authority sent Johnson a letter denying the request, saying “the City is not responsible for your client’s injuries and … the responding officers acted reasonably and professionally.”
Johnson said he was surprised the case made it into the court system.
“That’s actually a very low offer, which is why I was surprised the city didn’t jump on it,” Johnson said. “He just wants compensation and justice.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].