Settlement reached in Taser case

A Benton City man will receive $350,000 in a settlement with the city of West Richland and Benton County over a 2007 Taser incident that caused a skull fracture.

West Richland is responsible for $315,000 and Benton County will pay $35,000, according to Kennewick attorney Bill Reinig, who represented Mark Clark.

Clark filed a civil tort claim against both entities in federal court last year and it was set for trial this summer, but a settlement agreement was reached during mediation in Spokane earlier this month, Reinig said.

Clark suffered serious injury when he was shocked by a Taser gun, fell backward and hit his head on the ground, knocking him out, according to the claim. He had internal brain hemorrhaging and a skull fracture, and said he has had significant problems since the injury, including mental problems, seizures and other symptoms.

The incident occurred in July 2007 when Benton County sheriff's deputies responded to a gas station convenience store in Benton City after Clark's girlfriend reported he was violating a no contact order.

Reinig said deputies were talking to Clark's girlfriend when Clark happened to get dropped off there by someone else. Clark had an outstanding warrant for violating a no contract order and he is a big, tall guy, Reinig said, so deputies called for backup.

Brian Galusha, who was a West Richland police officer at the time, arrived. Reinig said there was some confusion about whether Clark was under arrest, but Galusha ordered Clark to drop the cigarette he was holding.

Clark, who admittedly was drunk, refused and he was zapped with the Taser by Galusha.

The incident was recorded on the West Richland patrol car's dashboard camera, which Reinig said helped support his client's case.

Reinig said Clark holds no ill will toward Galusha -- he made a mistake and Clark knows he has made his own mistakes in the past -- but Clark sued West Richland and Benton County because of the medical costs and injuries he has dealt with.

"Mark is just adamant that police need to curtail this type of Taser use and try other methods," he said.

Reinig said this was an isolated Taser incident in the Tri-Cities, but should serve as a lesson to law enforcement officers involved in nonthreatening situations.

"I think the escalation of force used by police officers ... should certainly be more gradual," Reinig said. "They should do more talking to a person before they escalate to the use of the Taser. In this case, there's more that should have been done."

Reinig said the suit also includes wrongful hiring and wrongful retention issues because Galusha had been hired by West Richland police even though he suffered from a minor head injury sustained in a crash when he was a Richland police officer.

Neuropsychological reports shows that Galusha continued to have a minor head injury and said he probably shouldn't be a police officer again because he would have trouble with anger and stress, Reinig said.

Reinig said that was the other major lesson that he thinks comes from this case -- more complete background checks should be done before hiring officers.

"People need to know that these head injuries are not much different than a person with a broken femur. It's a physical injury," he said. "It's called minor head injury, but they really affect people's lives."

West Richland officials could not be reached Friday.

Galusha resigned from the West Richland force in May 2008 after he was arrested on a domestic violence assault allegation.