The Washington State Patrol (WSP) has agreed to pay $105,000 to settle a civil-rights lawsuit filed by a man who claimed he was wrongly accused of assaulting a state trooper during a 2017 protest against President Donald Trump in downtown Olympia.
Kieran Moulton Shell claimed in a federal lawsuit filed last year that he was the “victim of a blatantly false pretextual” arrest during competing pro- and anti-Trump rallies held March 4, 2017, at Heritage Park.
Shell, who was 19 at the time of the protest, says he was falsely accused of being one of a small group of Trump protesters who assaulted a WSP trooper. As a result, he spent two days in jail and nearly four months under the shadow of felony assault charges before the case was dropped because Shell was able to prove he already was in custody — for vandalizing police “do not cross” tape — when the trooper was attacked.
The lawsuit, filed by Bellingham attorney Lawrence Hildes, alleged that the pro-Trump demonstrators were “given unrestricted access to the park and law enforcement support” while the anti-Trump protesters “were restricted to a small area, roped in with police tape, and surrounded and interspersed with WSP officers in riot gear.”
Hildes, who has filed a number of lawsuits involving First Amendment protections and allegations of police overreach, alleged the incident sprang from an “unofficial, but widespread pattern and practice” at the state patrol of “carrying out their duties in a biased manner in favor of pro-Trump and far-right demonstrators at the expense of” counterdemonstrators and their constitutional rights.
Brionna Aho, a spokeswoman for the Washington Attorney General’s Office, which defended the WSP in the lawsuit, referred questions about the settlement to the state patrol. Washington State Patrol Communications Director Chris Loftis said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit says that WSP Capt. Jonny Alexander, Sgt. Darren Wright and Trooper Guy Rosser were responsible for the arrest of Shell, purportedly for tearing yellow plastic police tape off a sawhorse that had been set up to corral the anti-Trump group. The tape, Hildes notes, “can be purchased for a scant few dollars” and was thrown away after the demonstration.
Alexander reportedly approached Shell and intended to tell him to leave the tape alone, according to the lawsuit. However, Shell refused to identify himself to the patrol captain — which Hildes said was his right under the law. As a result, Alexander had him arrested for obstruction and ordered Wright to have Shell taken to the Thurston County Jail.
The lawsuit claims that Shell was in custody, searched and detained, when another trooper charged into the crowd in pursuit of another protester and was attacked.
At the jail, Shell was initially booked on charges of destruction of public property — the length of police tape he allegedly pulled down. However, a statement of probable cause submitted by Wright and Alexander identified Shell as one of the attackers. Shell was moved to a maximum-security cell and charged with second-degree assault on the trooper, a crime that carries a possible penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
Shell was released on bail after spending two days in jail, according to court records.
In May 2017, two months after his arrest, Shell’s public defender filed a motion in Thurston County Superior Court seeking to dismiss the assault charge. He provided videos from the WSP, the prosecutor’s office and local media “that clearly showed Shell could not have committed the assault and that Alexander, Wright and Rosser knew exactly where Shell was when the alleged assault occurred.” Meanwhile, an investigation by the prosecutor’s office and detectives from the WSP was completed in June and concluded that Shell “did not and could not” have assaulted the trooper in Heritage Park.
Shell claimed emotional trauma as a result of his arrest, incarceration and the nearly five months he spent as an accused felon. He said the incident was “extremely disruptive” to his life and will likely have long-term consequences, even though he was cleared.
“As it is, the charge will remain on his record and is likely to result in problems, for example crossing the border into Canada, and will show up on background checks,” according to the lawsuit.