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Settling Up 

The Spokane City Council agrees to pay $125,000 to settle an excessive force claim

Four years after two disputed instances of excessive force, Spokane City Council members voted Monday to approve a $125,000 settlement with plaintiff Leroy K. Berra, who alleges Spokane police officers pulled him through his smashed car window and broke his leg following a vehicle pursuit in 2009, then 14 months later forcibly subdued him in a second encounter.

"[Berra] has experienced extreme pain and suffering from the injuries and from medical procedures and treatment," according to his claim, first filed in early 2012. "Claimant has also experienced limited mobility, loss of enjoyment of life, and mental and emotional distress and suffering."

The lawsuit named a number of Spokane officers as defendants, including Officers Christopher Bode, Scott Haney, Corey Lyons, Darrell Quarles, Adam Valdez and Ron Van Tassel. Court records indicate the case had been scheduled to go to jury trial in federal U.S. District Court last week when mediation efforts reached a settlement.

Officers reportedly pulled over Berra on March 1, 2009, after spotting him driving the wrong way down a one-way street and running multiple red lights in what they believed to be an attempt to flee police, according to court records. Berra contends he pulled over as soon as he noticed the flashing lights behind him.

Berra, who has previous arrests for eluding police, drug possession and other charges, says officers boxed in his vehicle and smashed out a window. Officers then allegedly pulled him out of the broken window and beat him with a flashlight, breaking his leg. They also Tasered him multiple times.

Police say Berra appeared to be fighting with a passenger in an attempt to drive off when an officer broke the car window, reached in to unlock the door and pulled Berra out to the ground. They say Berra fought officers as they tried to arrest him.

Court records say Berra was later treated at the hospital for a broken leg and possible "excited delirium." City attorneys argued Berra's injuries were the result of his own physical attack on officers. Berra's attorney Richard Wall argues officers went far beyond necessary force.

During a second incident on May 1, 2010, Berra alleges that Officer Lyons confronted him outside an apartment building and knocked him down, kicking and punching him, after Berra refused a command to sit down on wet ground. Lyons, who also was involved in the first incident, argues that Berra was combative and moved to punch him.

As both sides prepared to go to trial on March 10, a last-minute settlement was reached. The city council approved a resolution Monday awarding Berra $125,000, dismissing the lawsuit "without admission of fault or liability."

Berra testified at Monday's council meeting about what he thinks are larger issues that remain with the department, calling in part for the use of body cameras. (The department has purchased body cameras and expects to begin using them later this year.)

"I believe that something like this takes place too often, and that people are afraid to stand up for their rights," Berra said. Councilman Jon Snyder, chair of the council public safety committee, declined to comment. City spokesman Brian Coddington said the settlement includes a confidentiality agreement, which bars city officials from commenting.

Wall, Berra's attorney, says he hopes, if nothing else, that the incident may lead to improved police training regarding use of force. He says Berra plans to finally move on with his life.

"There's no amount of money that can compensate for his injuries," Wall says, "but he feels satisfied." ♦

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