The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild is “dismayed” that the city will pay a record $1.975 million to settle a lawsuit brought by a man shot in the face during a 2009 standoff.
The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild on Friday said it was “dismayed” at the city’s decision to pay a record $1.975 million settlement to a man shot in the face by an officer during a 2009 standoff, arguing the shooting was justified and that the officer would make the same decision if he had it to do over.
“The settlement by the City of Seattle in this case sends a disturbing message to the rank and file of the Seattle Police Department,” wrote SPOG President Ron Smith in an email sent to media and the police department Friday.
City Attorney Pete Holmes said earlier this week he made a “business decision” to settle the lawsuit filed by Nathaniel Caylor against Officers Gene Schubeck and Don Leslie stemming from a May 29, 2009, incident in which Schubeck shot Caylor in the face without warning as Caylor was walking back into his apartment. The bullet shattered Caylor’s teeth and jaw, requiring metal plates, screws, bone grafts and 17 surgeries to repair.
Schubeck joined the department in 2000 and according to Smith is a U.S. Army combat veteran; Smith said Schubeck fired because he believed Caylor was going to harm Caylor’s 20-month-old son, who was inside the apartment.
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According to Smith, a Seattle Times article detailing the settlement earlier this week “does not begin to tell the complete story” of the situation faced by the officers.
Schubeck, who was perched overlooking Caylor’s patio, said he believed he had heard a shotgun being cocked inside the apartment and told investigators that Caylor was using his infant son as a “human shield” in front of the apartment’s front door so police could not break in.
Schubeck also said he heard Caylor say he was going to get a gun. No other officer heard Caylor say that, according to the court records. Officers found an unloaded shotgun in a closet.
According to court records, Schubeck told Leslie he was going to shoot Caylor if he came out of the apartment and tried to go back inside. Leslie responded by telling him, “Don’t miss.” Schubeck then called Caylor onto the patio.
Records show Caylor came out and berated the officer for pointing a gun at him. Schubeck fired without warning when Caylor turned to go back inside. Afterward, Caylor said he was going back to stop his son from crawling out of his high chair.
Leslie, the other defendant, said he didn’t think Schubeck was serious when he said he was going to shoot Caylor, and was “shocked” when he fired.
Caylor was arrested and entered an Alford plea to harassment charges, denying he was guilty of a crime but acknowledging there was likely enough evidence to convict him.
His son was taken from him for almost a year, based on an investigation by Seattle police detectives. The child was returned after a state court determined Caylor did not pose a threat to him and that information provided by the police department to the court was inaccurate.
Caylor filed a civil-rights and negligent-investigation lawsuit in 2011. In April 2013, U.S. District Judge Richard Jones refused to grant the officers immunity from liability and sent the case to trial, saying Caylor had presented evidence “that no reasonable officer would have concluded that Mr. Caylor’s son or the officers faced a threat of imminent harm sufficient to justify the use of deadly force.”
The officers appealed and the case was argued before a panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last month.
As part of the settlement, both Schubeck and Leslie were dismissed as defendants from the lawsuit.
The police department, in responding to the settlement, pointed out that Schubeck was forced to make a difficult decision without the benefit of the training and guidance provided by a court-monitored consent decree resulting from a Department of Justice finding in December 2011 that Seattle officers used excessive force.
Smith said that’s irrelevant.
“It doesn’t matter whether this incident occurred in 2009, or if it were to occur in 2015, given the facts and circumstances of this incident, the actions of these officers would be within department policy,” he said.
The SPOG criticism of Holmes’ decision to settle the case again highlights a strained relationship between the police rank-and-file and the city attorney, who won office as a police-reformer.