The city of Roy has withdrawn its attempt to appeal or overturn a verdict leveled by a federal jury and agreed to pay $3.26 million to two residents who were shot and seriously injured by a police officer during a drunken joyride.
As part of a settlement, the city has also agreed to pay an additional $793,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs to the lawyers who represented David Rice and his nephew Seth Donahue in the lawsuit, bringing the total payout to $4,050,000.
The city, with a population of 779, has a projected 2021 annual budget of $621,000. The city is insured.
Ann Trivett, the Seattle lawyer who represented Roy Police Officer Chris Johnson, said the settlement notwithstanding, “We steadfastly believe Officer Johnson did not violate the plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights.”
In exchange for the payout, the plaintiff’s agreed to allow the city to vacate the official verdict and drop the civil judgments levied by the jury against Johnson and the city, which could have impacted their credit ratings.
The settlement keeps intact the jury’s decision to award Rice $2,208,000 and Donohue $1,049,000 for the injuries they suffered when Johnson fired four times into the cab of a small four-wheel-drive off-road vehicle they were driving around the snow-covered streets of Roy the night of Feb. 2, 2019.
Rice, then 47, was struck in the groin and shoulder, resulting in life-threatening injuries. Donohue, then 24, was struck in the wrist. The verdict — one of the largest ever in Western Washington for a nonfatal police shooting — was handed up in September after a 13-day trial in U.S. District Court.
The city initially asked the judge to reconsider and overturn the verdict, and later appeared prepared to appeal the verdict to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals before the settlement was reached last week.
Johnson, who evidence showed had once been expelled from the state police academy for drinking, claimed he was struck by the vehicle after he got out of his police car and tried to stop it after a pursuit in a snowstorm. The plaintiffs claim they didn’t know they were being chased and that Johnson ambushed them at an intersection while they were on their way home.
Expert testimony and surveillance video from a nearby business introduced at trial showed the officer did not have his emergency lights on and that he shined a spotlight into the interior of the Polaris RZR — which Rice said blinded him — before firing.
The men had been driving around the streets of town after a day of drinking, according to court testimony.
During the trial, it was revealed that Johnson returned to work almost immediately after the shooting, before the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department completed its criminal investigation into the incident. Testimony showed that Roy Police Chief Darwin Armitage did not conduct an internal investigation into his only employee, although there were obvious possible policy violations, including a ban on shooting into moving vehicles.
The department has since hired a third officer, according to budget documents.
Douglas Cloud, the family’s attorney from Tacoma, said, “the police use of deadly force in situations such as this is outrageous. No citizen should be shot for what was, at worse, a traffic infraction.”
Trial counsel Chris Dolan, from the Dolan Law Firm in San Francisco, said the verdict reflects accountability for law enforcement that in past years simply couldn’t be counted on.
“We are not seeing more of these verdicts because there are more shootings happening today than before,” he said. “We are seeing that more often police … are finally being held accountable for what has become an institutionalized abuse of power which has gone on, in the shadows, for generations.
“The game changer is the fact that video evidence now overcomes the benefit of the presumption jurors have always given cops that they are telling the truth.”