The City of Fircrest has agreed to pay $140,000 to settle a civil-rights lawsuit filed by a man who was seriously injured when a police officer searching for a car-prowl suspect chased him into his home and shot him twice in the back.
Jose German, then 40, and a friend were working on his sister’s car early in the morning of April 27, 2012, when Officer Chris Roberts, responding to a report of a car prowl at a nearby Pierce County tavern, thought the men fit the description of two suspects. A security guard at the tavern had confronted the men and said one of them displayed a gun — but did not point it or fire — and then walked away.
Roberts was in the area and saw German and his friend in an apartment complex parking lot about five minutes later and a quarter of a mile from the tavern. The men were working on the car with its hood up, and Roberts said he believed the men were trying to break into the vehicle, according to court documents. The documents indicate the car belonged to German and he was trying to start it so he could pick up his wife and son. He and his family were living with his sister at the time.
Roberts said he jumped out of his patrol car and asked the men, “Hey fellows, what’s up?” The officer said German’s friend began moving toward the apartments and German followed. Roberts, with gun out, chased after them. The men ran to German’s sister’s apartment with Roberts right behind them.
German later said that he did not see who had asked the question because his view was blocked by the car’s hood and that Roberts never identified himself as a police officer. German said that he simply had followed his friend.
Roberts claimed he identified himself as a police officer and ordered the men to stop. However, according to court documents, a civilian who was on a “ride along” in Roberts’ vehicle that night testified that he did not hear Roberts identify himself.
Roberts chased the men, kicked down the apartment door and entered the darkened room with a flashlight in his left hand, and his service weapon in his right, according to pleadings in the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Tacoma in 2015.
German and his companion were at a sliding-glass door at the back of the apartment, and Roberts, in a sworn statement, said he believed they were trapped and would fight. He said he thought one or both of the men were reaching for guns when he fired three times. One round struck the door frame, another hit German in the back, next to his spine, and lodged in his abdomen, and the third struck him in the back of the arm, breaking the bone.
Records indicate German was convicted in the earlier car prowl. A handgun was found in the apartment.
Fircrest Police Chief John Cheesman said Friday that he wished the case had been allowed to go to trial, but understood why the city’s attorneys settled the case. He said Roberts was not disciplined for the shooting, which was found to be justified after an investigation.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated that the the suspect was mistaken for a car prowl suspect and that no weapon was found. The suspect was convicted of the car prowl, and police found a gun in the house.