A former Pierce County high school basketball standout who led her college team to an NCAA tournament berth has settled a racial-discrimination and excessive-force lawsuit against the police chief of Roy, Pierce County, for $20,000. However, attorneys in the case aren’t ending their war of words over how and why the case resolved.
Sasha Weber, a Lacey, Thurston County, native and former Timberline High School hoops star, sued Roy Police Chief Darwin Armitage in February in U.S. District Court. She alleged that the chief inflicted a career-ending injury to her ankle during a Sept. 1, 2017, traffic stop when the 23-year-old Weber was arrested for having a suspended license, according to court pleadings.
The lawsuit alleges Weber was pulled over by another Roy officer — identified as Sonia Gomez-Armitage, the police chief’s wife — who found that Weber’s driver’s license was suspended. According to the pleadings, the officer asked Weber to step out of the vehicle and then radioed the police chief to respond for backup. The lawsuit claims the chief placed Weber under arrest and roughly handcuffed her, hurting her wrist.
“There was nothing in Ms. Weber’s appearance, behavior or demeanor that suggested Ms. Weber required excessively forceful treatment,” the lawsuit alleges, stating that the chief then “yanked Ms. Weber to the patrol vehicle by physically dragging her” with the help of Officer Gomez-Armitage. Weber alleges she complained to the chief several times that he was injuring her ankle by not allowing her to gain her footing on the uneven surface.
The lawsuit claims the chief repeatedly called her a “criminal” during the arrest.
“Chief Armitage’s physical force toward Ms. Weber caused her permanent injury,” the lawsuit says. “Ms. Weber’s basketball career prematurely ended as a result of the injuries inflicted on her while she was in the custody of the City of Roy.”
The lawsuit claims that “Chief Armitage’s conduct was motivated by racial animus” and that the chief was “acting under the color of law” when he violated her Fourth Amendment protections against false arrest and excessive force, and her 14th Amendment rights guaranteeing equal protection under the law. Armitage is Caucasian and his wife is Hispanic, according to the pleadings. Weber is Black.
Chief Armitage has denied the allegations, implying in the city’s formal response to the lawsuit in federal court that Weber was not cooperative with officers: “Defendants deny that anyone used physical violence or excessive force against plaintiff,” the city said in its response. “Defendants [the city] further deny that plaintiff [Weber] did nothing to resist arrest or resist complying with lawful officer commands.”
In addition, the chief filed a counterclaim against Weber, alleging defamation and outrage over a series of long posts about the arrest Weber posted on her Facebook account.
The lawsuit settled in December, with Weber’s attorney, Susan Mindenbergs, first filing a motion to dismiss the racial-discrimination claims. A few weeks later, both parties agreed in a second motion to dismiss the false-arrest and excessive-force claims by Weber, as well as the chief’s counterclaim.
In exchange for dismissing her claims, Weber was paid $20,000 — an amount that included her attorneys’ fees. Ann Trivett, the defense lawyer representing the chief and the city, said the payment “represented a nuisance value that would be much less than the cost of continued litigation and the motion to dismiss the case.”
“The allegations made by Ms. Weber in her complaint were baseless,” Trivett said in an emailed response for comment. “Ms. Weber dismissed her racial discrimination claims against Chief Armitage voluntarily.”
Mindenbergs said Weber dismissed the lawsuit and agreed to the “small settlement” because she wanted to put the incident behind her and move on with her life. Weber has moved to California and is attending school, Mindenbergs said, and did not have time to pursue the lawsuit further.
“Ms. Weber brought these race and assault claims … because as a young African-American woman, she was arrested and assaulted without probable cause,” Mindenbergs said in a email to the The Seattle Times, adding that the “only baseless claims … were those counterclaims brought by Chief Armitage against Ms. Weber.”
“With regard to the amount of the settlement, if Chief Armitage had been wrongly accused, he would not have paid at all, but would have instead attempted to clear his name, which he did not do,” she added.
Weber, a 6-foot guard, graduated from Timberline High School in 2012 and immediately became a power player for the New Mexico State Aggies. She became a breakout star her junior year, when she averaged 14.9 points per game and was ranked among the NCAA’s Top 10 three-point shooters. In 2015, she led the Aggies to their first NCAA tournament berth since 1988 as a 16th seed. The Aggies were defeated in the first round by No. 1 seeded Maryland, 75-59. In December 2016, Weber signed to play professional basketball in Europe with USC Freiburg, which competes in Germany’s premier women’s basketball league. Weber said the injury she suffered during the arrest ended her professional sports career.
Correction: An earlier version of this story provided an incorrect date when Weber signed with a European professional team.