A civil-rights lawsuit has backfired on two former Burien residents who alleged that King County sheriff's deputies illegally detained them...
A civil-rights lawsuit has backfired on two former Burien residents who alleged that King County sheriff’s deputies illegally detained them and racially insulted one of them during a traffic stop almost four years ago.
On Friday, a federal-court jury not only rejected the arguments by Marvin Davis and Salina McCoy, but also found that they had brought their lawsuit maliciously, knowing their accusations were “false and unfounded … and without probable cause.”
In the suit, Davis and McCoy complained that deputies James Keller and Mike Rayborn initially failed to give a reason for stopping them, detained them longer than necessary, used racial epithets against Davis, who is black, and assaulted and illegally jailed him.
But after the plaintiffs had rested their case, U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez dismissed all but one claim, leaving it to jurors to determine only how many minutes had elapsed between the time of the initial traffic stop and Davis’ arrest for obstructing an officer, and if the wait was reasonable under the circumstances.
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Jurors answered, respectively, “13-16 minutes,” and “yes.”
Initially, Davis and McCoy sought $10 million in damages, but by the time the case got to the jury, the amount was down to $75,000.
As part of a malicious-prosecution counterclaim — a tool King County officials say rarely is used — jurors awarded $1 to each deputy. That’s the amount defense attorneys Tim Gosselin and Bob Christie had requested as a matter of principle.
Christie, who represented Keller, and Gosselin, who represented Rayborn, said they also would seek to recover attorneys’ fees and costs from the plaintiffs. Gosselin declined to discuss the bill, but Dan Donohoe, a spokesman for the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, said the standard rate for outside counsel is $225 an hour.
Conflict of interest
King County paid Gosselin and Christie to defend the deputies because of a conflict of interest involving Keller. While the civil case was pending, Keller was the subject of a criminal prosecution that ended in a hung jury, said Kris Bundy, a King County prosecutor who kept tabs on the federal trial.
Keller and two other officers were arrested in 2003 and charged with unlawful imprisonment and fourth-degree assault. They were accused of pepper-spraying and hitting Michael Winchester, a drug user they wanted to turn into an informant, to punish him for not returning their phone calls.
Prosecutors also alleged the three officers drove Winchester to the Green River and threatened to throw him in. But in 2004 a jury deadlocked 8-4 in favor of acquitting the police officers on five of the six charges, and the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office decided not to retry the case.
King County sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. John Urquhart said the incident also led to an internal investigation. The Sheriff’s Office sustained a complaint against Keller, who was given 20 days off without pay.
In the Burien case, Davis and McCoy also filed a complaint with the Sheriff’s Office against Keller and Rayborn. But it was not sustained, Urquhart said.
The events that led to the federal trial started in Burien the evening of Jan. 5, 2001. The officers said they observed Davis make a wide turn, while pulling out of a parking lot onto a street, without proper signals.
Both deputies approached the car, and Rayborn asked Davis for his license, registration and proof of insurance, court pleadings show. Davis provided only his license and registration. The deputies returned to their vehicle.
The parties disputed many aspects of the traffic stop, including how long Davis and McCoy were detained and what words were spoken. At trial, both sides agreed that Keller and Rayborn used pepper spray against Davis but disagreed over whether it was necessary.
The deputies’ attorneys said two independent witnesses corroborated their clients’ version of events.
Four criminal charges, related to the stop and a subsequent scuffle with police, were filed against Davis, but all eventually were dismissed when Keller, 33, and Rayborn, 43, failed to appear in court, court papers show. Their attorneys claimed it was because the deputies never received subpoenas.
On Monday, William Broberg, the attorney who represented Davis and McCoy, who now live in Oregon, blasted the verdict as “disgusting.” He said he planned to seek a new trial based on attorney misconduct. Noting that his clients are African American, Broberg asserted the deputies’ attorneys “appealed to racial prejudice of the all-white jury.”
Broberg contended the lawyers, particularly Christie, made statements such as “These people don’t belong in federal court.” They were referring, Broberg asserted, “to my clients and their witnesses, who are all black. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what the lawyer is trying to get at. It was disgusting.”
Christie characterized Broberg’s remarks as “shocking.” He added, “I did not say anything of the kind.”
Gosselin said, “I don’t recall any single instance of the defense raising an issue regarding the plaintiffs’ race at all, indirectly or directly.” He said the jury’s verdict vindicated the officers’ reputations.
Peter Lewis: 206-464-2217 or firstname.lastname@example.org