A woman who was paralyzed in a car crash nearly 15 years ago will be given a chance to make her case in court that Seattle lawyers coerced false testimony from a former Seattle police officer who later died by suicide after telling friends he felt remorse over lying about events leading to the crash.
A ruling out of Division One of the Washington Court of Appeals on Monday found the trial judge made a mistake when he refused to allow attorneys for Channary Hor to present evidence of the officer’s statements and seek a new trial. The three justices unanimously determined those statements should be heard and considered.
The statements came to light in a story published in May 2017 in The (Tacoma) News Tribune about the suicide a month earlier of Lakewood police Officer Arron Grant. He was working as a Seattle police patrol officer in 2006 when he was dispatched to a report of a car parked at Seward Park after the park was closed.
Hor was a passenger in that vehicle, which was driven by Omar Tammam, a young man she’d just met, according to reports at the time. The car sped out of the lot and, according to testimony, Grant followed it, and the car crashed into a brick wall. Hor was paralyzed. Tammam suffered less serious injuries.
A key issue during a 2013 civil trial was when or if a police pursuit actually was under way, potentially opening the city to liability. At trial, Grant said he was following the vehicle, but he had not initiated a technical pursuit, which Hor disputed.
The jury found Tammam liable and awarded Hor $17.4 million. However, Colleen Peterson, one of Hor’s lawyers, said Hor has never received anything from Tammam, who was a young man himself with minimal insurance and no assets.
Hor had sought as much as $146 million in economic and other damages as a result of the pursuit. The jury found the city and the officers were not liable.
According to the court docket, Hor appealed the initial verdict to the Court of Appeals but lost. Then, Grant killed himself in 2017. The News Tribune published its story in which several of Grant’s colleagues at Lakewood Police Department shared that he had been despondent over his belief that he was pressured into giving false testimony at the trial.
Dan Nolte, a spokesperson for City Attorney Pete Holmes, said the ruling focuses on whether Grant’s statements should have been admissible.
“The trial court has already reviewed the statements and found that, even if admissible, they are not of sufficient evidentiary value to overturn a jury verdict,” Nolte said. “At no point was Officer Grant ever counseled to testify against his recollection. We’re currently assessing our next steps in this case.”
Peterson says her client is now 30 years old and has never had help with the resources necessary to cope with her paralysis.
“This ruling makes it clear that the truth was not presented at the trial,” she said. “Let’s not forget that the Grant family are victims of what happened here, as well.”
The Court of Appeals ruling cites a sworn declaration by a former Lakewood police sergeant, Anders Estes, who said Grant told him that he had pursued the car in Seattle and that the lawyers for the city had quizzed him closely about when he had activated his patrol car’s emergency lights, at one point taking him out to the scene even though it was years later.
Grant reportedly said that he could not recall specifically but that the lawyers pushed him to recall and that he felt uncomfortable and pressured.
“So when it finally came time to testify, he went up and testified to what the attorneys told him to testify to, which he knew was not the truth,” Estes wrote. “Once he had done that, he said that he had felt bad. He said he felt he had betrayed the badge or something like that.”
Michael Wulff, another Lakewood police officer, swore under oath that Grant told him that the city’s attorneys “told him to testify that he and the other officer involved were not pursuing any vehicle and were not in pursuit; that no Seattle officers were in pursuit of the fleeing vehicle when it crashed; and that Officer Grant did not have his emergency lights activated.”
Wulff said Grant told him before the trial “that he felt pressured by the attorneys for the city to testify to observations or details that would assist the city’s case, but that he couldn’t because he didn’t remember or was not even present for some of them.”
Grant also approached then Lakewood assistant chief Mike Zaro, who also said in a sworn deposition that Grant “believed” he had given false testimony. Zaro said he told him that getting “browbeat by a civil attorney” is not uncommon, “and that it wasn’t for him to worry about to the extent that he was worrying.” Zaro is now Lakewood chief.