One excessive force lawsuit settled

PARKERSBURG – A 2013 lawsuit alleging the use of excessive force by a city police officer has been settled for $80,000, with five of the six original defendants dismissed.

But Parkersburg Police Chief Joe Martin said he’s not advocating settlement in a civil case brought last month by attorneys for Parkersburg resident Albert Richards, calling allegations that officers assaulted the man after he’d been handcuffed a “total fabrication.”

The settlement came earlier this month in a case filed in November by Parkersburg resident John Michael Sadler Jr.

It claimed that on Aug. 13, Sadler was punched and choked by Patrolman Jay Hart while being processed at the Wood County Holding Center following his arrest on a charge of driving under the influence. The suit named Hart, Patrolman Michael Bosley, Martin, Mayor Bob Newell, an unnamed officer identified as John Doe and the city as defendants.

A June 3 order from U.S. District Court Judge Joseph R. Goodwin grants motions by attorneys for Sadler, Bosley, Martin, Newell and the city “to dismiss all claims asserted between them in this matter, with prejudice.” Claims against John Doe were also dismissed.

That order makes no reference to Hart, but Martin said Monday that the city’s insurance carrier had settled the case against the officer for $80,000.

“Clearly, he (Hart) was the responsible party,” Newell said.

Hart is currently on administrative duty for the department and disciplinary action is pending, Martin said.

Timothy L. Mayo, the Charleston attorney listed as representing Hart in a court document, declined to comment on the case Monday.

A call to Sadler’s attorney, John Bryan of Union, W.Va., was not returned Monday.

Sadler’s suit was the fifth filed since 2009 alleging excessive force by Parkersburg Police officers. The previous four cases were settled by the city’s insurance provider for amounts ranging from $2,500 to $135,000.

In November 2011, Newell asked the FBI to investigate whether any civil rights violations had taken place in regard to two of the incidents. Federal investigators also looked into a third, and no charges were filed.

The most recent suit was filed by Albert Richards’ attorneys against the city and Patrolmen B.J. Depue and R.T. Davis. Richards claims to have suffered multiple injuries when the officers responded to a report of a domestic assault at his 36th Street residence on May 23, 2012.

The suit says an officer sprayed Richards with pepper spray when he tried to wipe oil, gasoline and carburetor cleaner from his hands. When he wiped his eyes, the combination of those substances and the spray resulted in him being unable to see.

After Richards was handcuffed, the suit says, he was being led to a police cruiser when he lost his balance and was thrown to the ground, where both officers struck him repeatedly.

Martin offered a different version of events.

He said Richards had active arrest warrants against him and officers instructed him to place his hands behind his back to be handcuffed. Richards did not comply and used force to resist being handcuffed, the chief said. At that point, officers used pepper spray on him, then took him to the ground when he continued to resist.

Richards allegedly struck one officer and threw the other off of himself. “Officers used closed hand strikes to the body of Richards to gain control and (effect) the arrest of him,” Martin said.

“Once Richards was compliant and handcuffed, no other force was necessary or used,” he said. “The plaintiff alleges that the force used against him was after he was handcuffed, which is a total fabrication.”

A formal response to the suit has not yet been filed by the city, but Martin said he believes the officers involved acted properly.

“I have been in contact with the insurance carrier and encouraged them to defend this case and not offer any cash settlement,” he said.