Sunday, November 25, 2012

Scottsdale’s legal fees grow in 2 police shootings

Scottsdale has agreed to spend more money to defend against lawsuits brought by the families of two men shot by police in separate incidents in 2012 and 2008, bringing the total authorized to date to nearly $1.6 million.

This month, the City Council approved paying up to $75,000 in legal fees for an appeal in the 2008 case of David Hulstedt, 35, who became a paraplegic after two Scottsdale sergeants shot him in the back as he was walking toward his house carrying his 2-year-old daughter, according to court records.

The council also approved spending up to $350,000 in the Feb. 14, 2012, fatal shooting of John Loxas Jr., 50, who was holding his 7-month-old grandson when he was shot and killed by Officer James Peters.

The city has authorized more than $1 million total in legal fees for the Hulstedt case and up to $515,000 in the Loxas case, according to  Mike Phillips,  a Scottsdale spokesman.

Loxas was the seventh Scottsdale resident Peters had shot in the line of duty since 2002. Six of the suspects died. Peters was granted a disability retirement this year.

The families of Loxas and Hulstedt filed lawsuits seeking damages against Scottsdale officials. Loxas’ family seeks $7.5 million from Peters, the city, Police Chief Alan Rodbell and Detective Brian McWilliams, according to documents prepared for the City Council.

Hulstedt’s family seeks $40 million from the city and 19 police officers and former employees, the documents said.

Both shootings were deemed justified by the Police Department’s Deadly Force Review Board, according to records, as were Peters’ prior shootings while on duty.

A federal judge disagreed with the review board in Hulstedt’s case, finding that “reasonable” officers would not have fired at Hulstedt, who had psychological issues, was unarmed, made no sudden movements and held his daughter.

The judge further said the baby could have been hurt. In fact, the baby did fall 6 feet to the ground and suffered a minor facial injury, according to the ruling. The judge also noted that police did not warn Hulstedt before they fired.

After three of four police-fired bullets struck Hulstedt, police handcuffed and dragged him facedown 400 feet to paramedics, the judge found.

Hulstedt was suffering from anxiety and paranoia when he called Scottsdale police the day he was shot and demanded that U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano come to his house, according to the ruling.

Police ascertained he was having psychological difficulties, but they were concerned about the safety of Hulstedt’s daughter because Hulstedt threatened to “pile-drive” her, according to court documents.
The judge ruled that the officers are not immune from damages stemming from the suit.

“Considering ‘the totality of the facts and circumstances’ in the particular case, no reasonable officer could have believed that shooting David without warning, while he calmly walked back towards his house with (his daughter) over his head, was a proper means of protecting (her) safety,” the judge said in his ruling.

“Neither Sgt. Richard Slavin nor Sgt. James Dorer warned (Hulstedt) that they would shoot him if he did not comply with their commands, and both of them shot him in the back as he was walking away from them and towards the house.”

The council Nov. 13 approved up to $75,000 with the law firm of Osborn Maledon to appeal the judge’s findings to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The partners of the firm, which has experience with appellate litigation in excessive-force cases, will make $370 an hour, according to City Council documents.

It is unclear how much money the city has spent on prior legal action in either the Hulstedt case or Loxas case or in other lawsuits against retired Officer Peters.

The council approved up to $250,000 in attorney’s fees and up to $100,000 in other litigation fees to the law firm of Struck, Wieneke & Love of Chandler to represent Peters in the Loxas shooting. Lead attorney Kathe Wieneke will make $195 an hour, according to City Council documents. Separate counsel was retained for the city and other defendants.

Loxas’ neighbors had called police to his house Feb. 14, 2012, after he waved a gun at them, according to police reports. He was walking back to his house holding his grandson when he was shot, according to court documents.

The lawsuit filed on his family’s behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union claims that Scottsdale police failed to adequately investigate Peters’ prior shootings and that he should not have been armed and on the force the day Loxas was killed.

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