Snohomish County has agreed to pay $150,000 to settle a lawsuit filed in 2016 by a man who claimed he was Tasered and beaten into a coma by a sheriff’s deputy with a troubled history and prior run-ins with the law himself.
John Robert Preston initially pursued his civil-rights claim in federal court without a lawyer, filing handwritten motions and briefs. Eventually he convinced a federal magistrate judge to appoint counsel — a rarity in civil cases — who helped uncover that the deputy involved in his violent arrest in 2014 had a history of drug use, soliciting prostitutes and assault.
According to court documents, the deputy involved, Ryan Boyer, is now a supervising sergeant with the department.
Telephone and email messages left with the sheriff’s office and Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office seeking comment were not returned Tuesday.
The case settled in late May after U.S. District Judge John Coughenour last year refused to dismiss Preston’s allegations that the county negligently hired and retained the deputy. Preston’s lawsuit also included claims of excessive force stemming from a run-in with Boyer at a park-and-ride in Snohomish County on July 30, 2014.
The court documents are heavily redacted, due to the “highly personal” nature of the information about Boyer and his past — including pleading guilty to a gross misdemeanor fourth-degree assault charge after kicking a man in the head during a fight outside a bar in Arlington. He received a 12-month deferred sentence, according to the court documents.
According to the lawsuit, Boyer had not been in any trouble with the law since 2002 and in 2007 joined the now-defunct Snohomish City Police Department, which in 2012 was absorbed by Snohomish County. Boyer went through a background check and investigation and was hired as a lateral transfer by the county despite his previous legal problems, which included drug use (described as “mostly marijuana” in court documents) and an incident where he solicited a prostitute while he was in the U.S. Navy.
An expert hired by Preston’s lawyers, Scott DeFoe, a decorated former Los Angeles Police SWAT sergeant and police procedures expert, said that Boyer’s past behavior should have disqualified him from being a police officer anywhere.
According to his complaint and court exhibits, Boyer was investigating a residential burglary in Edmonds when he spotted Preston pushing a mountain bike that fit the description of one of the stolen items. Boyer said Preston acted nervous and suspicious, and Boyer decided to take him into the station.
According to the reports, Boyer initially handcuffed Preston, who at 240 pounds was much larger than the deputy. Boyer said they were on the way to the station when Preston said he wanted to make a statement. Boyer said he pulled over into a park-and-ride lot at 112th and Interstate 5, stopped and took off Preston’s cuffs so he could write, according to court pleadings.
Boyer said that while at the lot he discovered Preston had given him a false name and had a warrant out for his arrest. He said Preston resisted when he attempted to put the handcuffs back on and that’s when he resorted to using force to subdue him.
Boyer said when he told Preston that he knew his real identity and that he was going to jail, Preston “snarled” and took an angled “bladed stance,” which the deputy said indicated he was thinking about fighting or fleeing. Boyer said he drew his Taser and again ordered Preston to comply. When he didn’t, Boyer said he fired the electrified darts into Preston’s abdomen. Preston, he said, pulled them out without effect and ran.
Boyer said in his report he reloaded the Taser and chased Preston. He said he shot Preston a second time, this time the darts striking him in the back. The man’s legs “locked up” and he fell face-first to the pavement. Boyer said that’s when the injuries to Preston’s face occurred.
Boyer said in his report that Preston was struggling to rise when Boyer jumped on his back and delivered a series of “compliance blows” to the back of his head with the Taser. He acknowledged that he kicked Preston at least twice in the torso — blows that were witnessed by his captain as he arrived to provide backup.
The lawsuit alleges that Boyer kicked Preston at least twice in the face, splitting both his lips, breaking his nose, leaving a gash in his forehead and a broken tooth lodged in the back of his throat. He was unconscious and comatose when he arrived at the hospital, according to court and medical documents in the file. He was hospitalized for a week, according to the pleadings.
When he woke up, hospital staff told him that the sheriff’s office said he had injured himself when he fell on his face after he was shot with a stun gun while running away.
“But I knew that isn’t what happened,” Preston said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “The last thing I remember was him kicking me in the mouth.”
Over the next two years, Preston — while in prison on an unrelated firearms charge — used public disclosure laws to gather reports, interviews, maps and medical documents that supported his claim. He argued Boyer shot him with a Taser unnecessarily and then beat him with the device so badly that it tore his ear in half and punctured the back of his head.
He filed a complaint in 2016, just as a two-year statute of limitations was about to expire on his ability to file a tort claim with the county. He litigated the case himself for more than a year, filing dozens of closely spaced, handwritten pleadings that succeeded in thwarting efforts by the county to dismiss the case as frivolous.
“I never changed my story,” Preston said. “I can tell you everything that happened until he kicked me unconscious.”
Preston’s attorneys said the extent, type and severity of his injuries — the torn ear, split lips, broken facial bones, deep forehead gash and broken teeth — could not have been solely caused by a parking lot fall and that the force used to arrest him outstripped the threat he posed to the officer or public.