Four Pasco police officers did not violate a Pasco paraplegic man's rights when they arrested him five years ago, a federal jury has ruled.
A U.S. District Court jury in Yakima denied Fred Nunez's claim that Pasco police officers used excessive force when arresting him after a traffic stop.
Nunez sued the city and four Pasco police officers, claiming the police violated his civil rights and broke one of his paralyzed legs using excessive force while arresting him in June 2007.
The lawsuit named Pasco officers Anthony Aceves, Raymond Aparicio, Patrick Baker and Chad Pettijohn. All four still work for the city.
City officials said Monday that they were pleased with the verdict. The officers were acting appropriately and within the scope of their duties, said Stan Strebel, Pasco deputy city manager.
But Nunez's attorney Pat Roach of Pasco told the Herald that he can't understand how the jury could find that the officers acted properly after watching the videos from police cars at the scene and reviewing the evidence.
Videos show that Nunez opens his car door and was told not to by police. A little later, Nunez again opens his door, and one of the officers tells him to get out.
Baker tries to pull Nunez out and throws his hands up in the air while he walks away from Nunez's car.
Baker says, "F--- it. I don't give a sh---. You guys do what you want to do. I'm sick of this crap."
Then Baker and another officer appear to pull Nunez out of the car and the video shows Nunez's knees hitting the concrete. That is when Roach said Nunez's leg was broken.
Nunez's pants fall down, exposing his genitals as he is laid on the pavement and handcuffed. One of the officers pulls Nunez's pants back up as they carry him to a police car.
Baker is recorded saying, "When I'm trying to get him out of the car and five people are saying no, no, no ... that made me angry. Because all he needed to do was pull out a gun. He was reaching into his pocket."
Later, he says, "So I freaked out on camera," and is told by Pettijohn that they will talk about it later.
Roach said the videos show that Nunez did not present a safety threat to the officers. He was unable to get himself out of his vehicle.
It was a difficult situation for the officers to deal with, Strebel said.
"The videos speak for themselves," he said.
Strebel said the whole situation has to be taken into account, and the jury had the chance to do that by reviewing all of the evidence.
He said it is unfortunate that people frequently are called on to judge the conduct of police without the knowledge of what it's like to do the job on a daily basis.
Two of the videos do not have audio, and the supplemental reports written by the officers who assisted Baker during the arrest were either not written, not turned in or lost, according to what officers said during trial, Roach said.
"It smells of hiding the evidence," he said.
Nunez's criminal history included traffic infractions and citations, said Roach, who represented Nunez along with Kennewick attorney Brian Iller.
Benton County Superior Court records show Nunez also has a 1998 conviction for residential burglary.
There was no proof or allegations presented at the trial or in police records that Nunez owned or carried any guns, Roach contended. Nunez was only around guns in terms of being a victim of two shootings, he said.
Nunez was paralyzed from the waist down in a 1995 shooting. The suspected assailant was acquitted after claiming he fired in self defense because Nunez was an alleged drug dealer known to carry a gun.
Nunez also was shot in January 2010 when an angry husband allegedly caught his wife at Nunez's house. He was shot in the leg.
The jury in the civil rights case deliberated about five hours and issued its verdict Friday afternoon, Roach said. Nunez was asking for $50,000 to $150,000 to cover his injury with additional punitive damages in an unspecified amount.
The city's court costs were covered by its insurance policy with Washington Cities Insurance Authority, Strebel said. The risk pool hired George Fearing to represent the city.
Nunez has 30 days to appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
"I'd try this case again in a heart beat because we didn't end up getting justice," Roach said.
Nunez no longer lives in the Tri-Cities.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; email@example.com