FORKS — The City of Forks has paid $333,000 to settle a civil-rights lawsuit filed by relatives of a man who was shot and killed by police in 2016 after an officer allegedly escalated a welfare check into a deadly confrontation.
The lawsuit filed by the family of Edward Lowell Hills was unusual in that it didn’t name the officer who filed the fatal shot as a defendant, but blamed the shooting on the actions of another officer, Michael Gentry, who had a troubled history. Gentry has since resigned from the Forks Police Department.
According to the lawsuit, Gentry confronted Hills and used a Taser on him within 78 seconds of arriving at Lake Pleasant Mobile Home & RV Park off U.S. Highway 101, where he lived. When Gentry arrived, Hills was talking to Clallam County Sheriff’s Sgt. Edwin Anderson, who also had responded and was trying to sort out and defuse the situation, according to court documents.
Hill had been standing in the doorway of his trailer talking to Anderson on Nov. 4, 2016, after a neighbor called police to report that Hills had been yelling all night and the neighbor was concerned about his mental health, according to reports.
After Gentry used his Taser on Hills, Hills reached for a gun inside his trailer “in a desperate attempt to defend himself,” the lawsuit said.
Both officers drew weapons and fired. Anderson shot Hills followed by Gentry shooting Hills “through a closed door and through the walls of his home” without knowing if there was anyone else inside.
The family’s lawsuit said that Gentry and the city deprived Hills of his civil rights, including through unreasonable entry into Hills’ home and use of excessive force.
Anderson was not named in the lawsuit as a liable party although he shot Hills in the chest.
The family contended it was Gentry who unnecessarily “precipitated” the shooting by illegally deploying his Taser at Hills when Hills was unarmed, while Hills was attempting to close his door, and as Anderson was trying to convince Hills to come outside to speak with the officers.
Forks Police Chief Mike Rowley said Saturday he was “generally” aware of the settlement.
“My response would be that although Gentry had issues with whatever, that the shooting was deemed justified through the Washington State Patrol,” Rowley said.
“With litigation issues, there is a misunderstanding that something was done wrong.
“With litigation, oftentimes, when cases are settled, oftentimes it’s because the case will be more expensive to continue on.”
City Attorney Rod Fleck said the settlement was resolved by the insurance providers.
He did not know what impact it might have on the city’s insurance rates.
“Everyone in the city’s insurance risk pool has been told our insurance will continue to increase due to changes in law enforcement and increased costs,” he said.
Gentry resigned in 2017 after he was suspended when a woman accused him of rape and obtained a protective order, according to court documents.
The FBI was contacted to conduct an investigation, according to Forks police documents, although no federal criminal charges have been filed.