Settlement agreement reached on lawsuit claiming excessive force

TACOMA — Attorneys for the City of Port Townsend have agreed to settle in a lawsuit — brought by a former journalist who accused a Port Townsend Police Department officer of using excessive force — for $80,000.

Chalmers Johnson, a Port Orchard attorney who represents Stephen Patch, the plaintiff, said both parties agreed to the settlement July 12 and notified the U.S. District Court of Western Washington of the settlement on July 13.

According to a memorandum of settlement provided by Johnson, the city agreed to pay $80,000 in exchange for a release of all claims alleged in the lawsuit.

“My client is satisfied,” Johnson said. “Mr. Patch agreed to settle and is fully satisfied with the settlement.”

Patch said previously that Officer Patrick Fudally took him to the ground in 2014, breaking his wrist and bloodying his nose.

Patch had nearly $60,000 in medical expenses and in 2015 had requested a $250,000 settlement.

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 previously said he was surprised the claim was denied.

Patch sued Fudally, Port Townsend Police Department (PTPD) and the City of Port Townsend, claiming negligence, negligent supervision and training as well as deprivation of rights.

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 stems from an incident on Dec. 2, 2014. Police investigated a report alleging Patch’s son had assaulted him at their home.

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.

Both parties are now finalizing the agreement, which is expected to be finished by 20 days after July 12 when the agreement was reached, according to the notice of settlement filed with the court. That would be Aug. 9,

“We had authorized them to settle,” City Manager David Timmons said July 18. “I’ve been told they have reached a settlement, but I don’t know the terms.”

Johnson said that while preparing for trial he found several cases in which Fudally’s use of force was questioned. He cited an incident in June 2011 in which in which Fudally was accused of kicking a man several times in the head after he was stunned, because the man refused to provide identification.

The case against the suspect was dismissed because Fudally did not have probable cause to request the man’s identification during a routine traffic stop, the Port Townsend Leader reported.

In an administrative investigation report dated Aug. 13, 2015 related to Fudally punching a suspect in the face on June 6, 2015, investigators wrote that Fudally did not violate department policies.

The 2015 incident involved police responding to reports that a man was trespassing at a bar downtown. A few months prior officers had been sent a memo advising them not to contact the man without appropriate resources or backup.

In this case, Fudally approached the man alone and the situation escalated, records say.

“I am concerned that he is putting himself and others in situations that are not tactically sound or safe when possibly using a different style of communication or taking more time to communicate and wait for appropriate resources to arrive, might reduce these kinds of physical and sometimes violent confrontations,” the report says.

Johnson said that since the incident with Patch, Fudally has become a detective for the department.

Port Townsend Police Chief Michael Evans said Fudally was reassigned one or two years ago to detective, which he said is not a promotion.

“It’s a special assignment,” he said. “There’s no pay raise with it.”

He said he cannot comment on the settlement.

He said the reassignment was not related to any allegations of excessive use of force. He said that because PTPD is short staffed, detectives help patrol the streets.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].

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