Clark County and Vancouver, Wash., have agreed to pay $1.8 million to a woman who was shot by SWAT officers during a standoff in which officers were told she was armed only with a starter pistol incapable of firing a bullet.
On a June afternoon in 2011, Mary Andison, the troubled 60-year-old wife of a Vancouver, Wash., OB/gyn, was depressed, intoxicated and in crisis. Her daughter, a newly minted registered nurse, called 911 for help.
Two hours later, Andison was in critical condition with a police sniper’s gunshot wound to her face and her leg maimed by a barrage of “nonlethal” rounds fired by officers after she lay wounded.
In that 120 minutes, what had begun as a family squabble turned into a siege. Two dozen officers, including members of the Southwest Washington Regional SWAT Team, surrounded the Andisons’ large rural ranch house, located on 20 acres outside Vancouver. An armored personnel carrier pulled into the driveway and a remotely controlled robot was sent into the home.
All of this for the threat posed by a despondent woman armed with a starter pistol that was incapable of firing a bullet — a fact the police knew from the outset, according to court documents.
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“This is the single most screwed-up police operation I have ever seen,” said the Andisons’ lawyer, Robert Wagner of Portland, who has spent 30 years defending police in civil-rights claims like the one the family filed following the shooting. “This was so badly handled and managed by law enforcement on so many levels, it is simply hard to believe.”
Officials with the city of Vancouver and Clark County have agreed to pay Andison and her husband, Dr. Bruce Andison, $1.8 million to dismiss their federal civil-rights lawsuit. It is one of the largest police use-of-force settlements ever in the state.
John Justice, an Olympia attorney who represented Clark County, said the county had no comment beyond the settlement agreement. He said none of the officers or deputies involved were disciplined.
The settlement was reached in late March after U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton rejected the officers’ efforts to dismiss the case, writing, “The use of force was clearly not warranted.”
Vancouver city officials declined to comment.
However, a motionpassed by the Vancouver City Council approving the settlement stated the judge’s opinion “created a scenario in which there would be significant exposure for the City and its officers if the jury disagreed with any of the SWAT tactics used.”
The city agreed to pay $900,000 — $300,000 of which was covered by the city’s insurer — which was combined with $900,000 from Clark County.
The Andisons declined to be interviewed for this story.
According to court documents, Mary Andison had been drinking and had gotten into an argument with her daughter before retreating to a “bonus” room above the home’s large attached garage. Chrissy Andison called 911 and reported her mother had a small blank pistol that she used to frighten birds from her garden.
The pistol looked real, except it had a red cap on the end of the barrel to indicate it was not a functioning firearm, according to the lawsuit.
Chrissy Andison called dispatchers back a few minutes later to say she had overreacted and that her mother was being “dramatic” and was “fine.” She said that her father was on his way home to deal with the situation.
Deputies were informed of this, but continued to the home anyway, according to reports.
One of the Clark County deputies, identified as Steven Shea, climbed the stairs inside the garage to the room. The key was in the door, and he found Mary Andison inside, sitting in a chair. According to Shea’s report, she showed him the gun, but did not point it at him.
Mary Andison reportedly told him, “This is a starter pistol. What are you going to do, shoot me?”
Shea said he backed out of the room and broadcast “GUN GUN GUN!” to warn his partner, even though he later said he noticed the barrel had “something red on the end of the barrel” consistent with it being a nonfunctioning weapon.
Shea asked that the SWAT team be dispatched.
In court pleadings by lawyers for the county and city, Shea was described as being “incredibly frightened” and “crying for his life.” Judge Leighton, in his ruling, criticized those statements as hyperbole.
“The intent is apparently to portray the situation as dramatically as possible, but it doesn’t paint the deputy in a very professional light,” the judge wrote.
Bruce Andison arrived, but was not allowed near the garage or to talk to his wife. He told officers there were no handguns in the home except for the starter pistol. He said his wife had two artificial knees and suffered from severe arthritis.
Another deputy, Tim Hockett, broadcast that he had heard a gunshot, although his statement was later discounted. That report was also broadcast, and the SWAT team was called out.
More than two dozen SWAT officers responded with an armored personnel carrier and a robot. The team was told by commanders that no crime had been committed and that Mary Andison was likely suicidal, according to court documents.
Over Bruce Andison’s repeated objections, officers used a grenade launcher to fire several “nonlethal rounds” — usually made of hard foam, rubber or wood — at the bonus-room door, hoping to “shatter it” despite the fact it wasn’t locked. Four additional rounds were fired through a window, spraying glass through the room, ostensibly so officers could use a camera to locate her inside the room.
That action, as Leighton later wrote, had the “not-unpredictable effect of flushing Andison out of the room.” When she appeared on the stairs with the starter pistol, Vancouver Police Officer Ryan Junker, a sniper positioned inside the garage, shot her in the back of the head.
The bullet shattered her jaw, destroyed her ear canal and exited her face, according to Wagner, the attorney. Her medical bills topped $300,000, according to court records.
Mary Andison went down in a heap on the stairs, but officers could not see the gun and yelled at her to show her hands. When she didn’t comply, a team approached the stairs and found her lying “in a fetal position, with a massive head wound plainly visible.”
However, because she wasn’t following their commands, an officer was ordered to shoot her with “nonlethal” rounds, from a distance of about 10 feet. She was struck twice in the thigh, each round “causing a gaping, open wound.”
Mary Andison spent weeks in the hospital, and Wagner, her attorney, said she suffered “significant facial deformation” from her wounds and is deaf in one ear.