In a rare move, a federal judge reopened a 2009 civil-rights case against Lakewood police and the plaintiff was paid $60,000, after his attorney received a damning document that was never turned over during the original lawsuit.
The settlement finalized last week and awarded to plaintiff Darren Burgess is in addition to $27,000 paid to him in a settlement when the lawsuit was first dismissed three years ago.
According to court documents, Burgess’ lawyer, Tyler Firkins, last year received an anonymous letter in a city of Lakewood envelope, along with a training document for Officer Ryan Moody, one of two officers Burgess sued after he was arrested for trespassing in a domestic abuse-related case.
The document outlined department concerns that Moody may have engaged in racial profiling.
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Burgess had called police during a dispute with his estranged wife’s aunt, who he said refused to get out of his car so he could leave. However, when officers arrived and Burgess identified himself as the complainant, he claimed Moody told him he didn’t “give a (expletive) why we got called out here” and ordered Burgess to walk to his home rather than take his car, according to the lawsuit.
Burgess said he told the officers he lived five miles away and that it was too far to walk. The lawsuit alleged that when Moody and the other officer, David Butts, again refused to let him drive away in his own car, Burgess volunteered for arrest.
“I guess I’m going to jail,” he reportedly said, and put his hands behind his back.
Burgess claims Butts put handcuffs on him so tightly that the circulation to his hands was cut off, and that he was shoved face down in the back seat of a patrol car. Burgess alleged in the lawsuit that he had to plead to have the handcuffs loosened.
He spent two days in jail and was charged with trespassing. The case was later dismissed by prosecutors.
Burgess, who is African American, complained to the Lakewood Police Department’s internal-affairs division about his arrest and treatment by Moody. When he received no satisfaction, he sued in U.S. District Court, alleging false arrest and discrimination.
Burgess claimed that if he were white he would have been allowed to drive away, according to court documents.
Lakewood settled that lawsuit for $27,000 and it was dismissed, according to Robert Christie, the lawyer who represented the city at that time.
Last year, however, Firkins received the anonymous letter and the 2006 training document in which Moody’s training officer, Eric Bell, expressed concerns that Moody was profiling African-American drivers.
“I noticed that the majority of the ‘Types’ of cars he looks to stop are more of your Cadillacs, Oldsmobiles, Chevys and Fords which were usually occupied by African American men,” according to Bell’s training report. “Moody has made several references to those styles of cars as ‘Gang Banger’ car.
“I saw that Moody followed cars occupied by African Americans for extended periods of time waiting for them to do something wrong so he could stop them. I’ve seen Moody pass up cars that are newer and have good reasons to stop so that he can stop a ‘Gang Banger’ car for something as minor as a turn signal violation,” wrote Bell, who was president of the LPD police union.
Along with that document was an anonymous letter alleging that when Burgess sued, the training document was “secreted away by the police union and the highest powers that be at the infallible LPD.” The letter claims it was also removed from the department’s electronic records.
“I don’t know about the racist intentions of police but I know about public disclosure and what happened here was wrong,” the letter states. “Do what you will, but everyone thinks they got away with something.”
Moody “vehemently” denied racial profiling and Burgess’ allegations in a sworn declaration, according to court documents filed by the city in opposing the reopening of the case.
Firkins, who had asked for Moody’s personnel file when the lawsuit was filed, said he never saw the document. If he had, he wrote in his motion to reopen the case, it would have changed how he had handled the lawsuit and his advice to Burgess regarding the initial settlement.
Firkins alleged the document was illegally withheld and that “it appears that they deliberately destroyed a public record, which in itself is a felony.”
Christie, the attorney who defended the city against Burgess’s lawsuit, said he never saw the document. If he had, it would have been turned over to Firkins in accordance with court rules, he said.
U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton reopened the case with a one-sentence order in May 2013 and sent the parties to mediation. Francis Floyd, an attorney hired to defend the city, said Burgess agreed to take $60,000 to settle the case. Floyd called it a “nuisance amount.”
“That is a lot of nuisance money. Must be inflation,” Firkins wrote in an email.
Telephone messages left for Lakewood Police Chief Brett Farrar, Moody and Bell were returned by Lakewood public-information officer Brent Champaco, who said the city would have no comment.
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or firstname.lastname@example.org.