Sequim to pay $35,000 settlement to man punched by police officer

A screen shot of a video shot by a patron of Oasis Bar and Grill in Sequim in 2013 shows police subduing a man believed to be Morgan Weimer. Herbert Price

A screen shot of a video shot by a patron of Oasis Bar and Grill in Sequim in 2013 shows police subduing a man believed to be Morgan Weimer. Herbert Price

SEQUIM — The city has agreed to pay a settlement of $35,000 to a man punched by a police officer in 2013.

The settlement agreed upon Monday prevents a federal lawsuit on behalf of Morgan Weimer, 48, from proceeding to jury trial and does not hold the city liable for the incident.

Weimer’s lawsuit was slated to go before a jury Tuesday morning at U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington in Tacoma.

On Monday, the court ordered the litigants’ attorneys to engage in a mandatory settlement conference.

During the conference, John Black — a Port Angeles attorney who represented Weimer along with attorney John Muenster of Bainbridge Island — met with attorneys for the Washington Cities Insurance Authority, a municipal risk pool.

“We ended up settling,” Black said.

“That is all Mr. Weimer wanted, from the beginning, was just to be compensated. He felt he was treated wrongly.”

The settlement will be paid “by the city’s risk pool provider, which made a business decision to avoid the expenses of a protracted trial,” said Patrick McMahon, a Wenatchee-based attorney representing the risk pool.

The settlement “is just an agreement not to go forward,” said Sequim Police Chief Bill Dickinson.

“We didn’t admit any culpability at all because we don’t think the officers did anything wrong. They were operating within the law.”

Weimer had been seeking damages and attorney fees from the city to cover medical bills, the week’s wages he lost while he was recovering and pain and suffering after he was hit May 12, 2013.

“We are satisfied with the settlement,” Muenster said.

“We accomplished what we wanted to do, and we’ve held the Police Department accountable.”

Weimer’s attorneys filed suit Sept. 8, 2014, alleging police used unreasonable force while arresting him during the 2013 Irrigation Festival outside The Oasis Bar & Grill, 301 E. Washington St.

The police actions were recorded on a witness’ cellphone.

The video shows Officer Grant Dennis punching Weimer three times while Officers Rick Larsen and Maris Turner hold him face-down in a concrete planter box outside the front door. A fourth officer holds back onlookers.

“I don’t think we would have had a case without” the video, Black said.

“I think the key to 21st-century litigation against the police is technology, and the availability of cellphones and cameras held by ordinary citizens was crucial to this case,” Muenster added.

After the incident, Weimer received a ticket for resisting arrest and fourth-degree assault.

He pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct, paid a $100 fine and $150 in court costs, and performed eight hours of community service.

“I am not saying anything negative about the officers in this instance,” Muenster said.

“When those blows were struck, that was Sequim striking the blows, not the individual officer. The officers are just the guys in the trenches. They are doing what they are told.”

Black said he hopes this case will encourage the Police Department to review its policy on use of force.

“I really hope that they can make some changes there,” he said

The Police Department is not reviewing its use-of-force protocols at this time, Dickinson said.

“That would presume that there was something wrong with it,” he said.

“The policy is based on state law and Supreme Court decisions, and it is a nationally embraced policy that is used by agencies everywhere.

“It is not a unique policy to us; it is essentially the law of the land.”

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Chris McDaniel can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or cmcdaniel@peninsuladailynews.com.

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