The nearly $2 million settlement is believed to be the largest police use-of-force payout in city history.
Like a lot of little boys, 7-year-old Wyatt Caylor sometimes wants to be a policeman. It’s something his father, Nathaniel, says he encourages.
He doesn’t tell his son that the man who once tried to kill him was a cop.
Nathaniel Caylor has a face full of screws, metal plates and bone grafts after Seattle police Officer Eugene Schubeck’s bullet left him spitting out teeth and pieces of his jaw following an incident in which police were called to Caylor’s Greenwood apartment in May 2009 after a family member thought he was suicidal. Caylor’s son, who was 20 months old at the time, witnessed the shooting.
Caylor, now 35, sued Schubeck and another officer, Don Leslie, in federal court, alleging excessive use of force and outrage, and accused the department of conducting a negligent investigation into the shooting that resulted in his son being taken away from him for a year.
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On Tuesday, the city confirmed that it has settled Caylor’s lawsuit for $1.975 million, believed to be the largest police-abuse settlement in city history. Most of that will go to Caylor, though some will go to Wyatt, according to court records.
The city has also paid another roughly $524,000 in defense costs, including outside attorney’s fees, for the two officers, according to the City Attorney’s Office.
The settlement is awaiting final approval by a federal judge.
City officials were quick to point out that the shooting occurred before a Department of Justice investigation into excessive use of force by Seattle police, which led to a court-monitored consent decree to implement reforms.
City Attorney Pete Holmes said he made a “business decision” to settle the case after mediation. The SPD, he said, “has learned a great deal in partnership with our lawyers to minimize such losses in the future.”
Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said in an email that an “officer made a difficult decision under difficult circumstances, at a time when the Department did not have the policies, procedures and training in place that we have today.”
Caylor, who has undergone 17 surgeries, says he holds nothing against law enforcement as a whole and had praise for the police department’s move toward reform.
“It looks to me like they’re really making positive strides,” he said Wednesday. “Although it’s a little late in my case.”
Schubeck, a 14-year department veteran, is listed in Seattle payroll databases as a patrol officer and hostage negotiator.
Court records show he was among more than 100 officers who unsuccessfully sued the department over the federal reforms, arguing that new use-of-force policies were restrictive and placed officers in danger.
According to court documents, sworn depositions and attorney arguments before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Caylor had locked himself in his Greenwood apartment with his son on May 22, 2009. He was despondent over the death of the child’s mother two weeks earlier, and had been drinking, smoking marijuana and using cocaine.
When he called a family member to say he was suicidal, police were called and went to Caylor’s apartment door, which he refused to open.
A tense standoff ensued, with Caylor telling officers that he had his son in the apartment and warning them that the child might be injured if they forced their way in. Some officers reported they heard what they thought was a shotgun being cocked behind the door, and Caylor told officers that he had an old 20-gauge shotgun in the apartment.
Schubeck had taken up a position on a landing overlooking Caylor’s patio, and spoke with him at least twice. Schubeck said he was concerned about the safety of the child and decided that, if Caylor came out of the apartment again, he would not let him re-enter.
At one point, Caylor appeared on the patio with the child, who was playing with an electric screwdriver, according to statements and court records. Schubeck acknowledged the child seemed fine, the court records said.
Caylor and the boy eventually went back inside.
According to court documents, Schubeck told the nearby Leslie that he intended to shoot Caylor if he tried to go back inside.
Leslie responded, “Don’t miss.”
Caylor walked out of the apartment a second time when Schubeck called for him. He then yelled at Schubeck for pointing his gun at him.
When Caylor turned to go back inside, where his son was crawling out of his highchair, according to reports and documents, Schubeck shot him in the facewithout warning.
Schubeck’s actions took other officers at the scene by surprise.
Leslie testified in a sworn deposition that he was “shocked” when Schubeck fired and that he “didn’t think he was serious” when Schubeck announced his intention to shoot Caylor.
Caylor, likewise, said he “never in a million years” thought Schubeck would shoot him. He thought the officer’s drawn gun “was just a power play.”
Other officers said in depositions that the boy appeared fine and that Caylor never threatened the child or police, except to say he would fight them if they tried to break into his apartment because they might hurt the boy.
Caylor’s attorney, Tim Ford, told the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals during arguments in April that Schubeck had set up a “death trap” in which Caylor was ordered out of the house, but not told that he would be shot if he went back inside.
“I understand that police sometimes have to make split-second decisions,” Caylor said in an interview. “But this wasn’t one of them.”
Evan Bariault, one of Schubeck’s lawyers, said Schubeck and Leslie were dismissed from the lawsuit before it was settled. Neither of the officers agreed with the terms, he said.
“The plaintiffs settled with the city. The officers had no say in that decision,” he said.
U.S. District Judge Richard Jones, in an April 2013 ruling sending the case to a jury, concluded that, while Schubeck’s concern about the child’s safety was sincere, “a jury could find that no reasonable officer would have concluded that Mr. Caylor’s son or the officer faced a threat of imminent harm sufficient to justify the use of deadly force.”
Jones, in his order, said Schubeck’s own assessment of the child’s well-being undermines his claim that he thought the boy was in danger.
Caylor was never seen with a weapon and the shotgun was later found, unloaded, behind clothes in a bedroom closet, according to records.
After the shooting, Caylor was arrested and entered an Alford plea to felony harassment in King County Superior Court. In an Alford plea, a defendant concedes there is sufficient evidence to support a conviction, but does not directly acknowledge guilt.
Meanwhile, the child was taken by Child Protective Services and Caylor’s parental rights were suspended based on the statements of a homicide detective, Jeffrey Mudd, who told the agency that Caylor had used his son as a human shield and had threatened to kill the boy.
He did not regain custody of the child until January 2011, after a judge determined there was no evidence Caylor ever intended to harm the child.
The Caylor settlement exceeds both the $1.5 million paid to the family of native woodcarver John T. Williams for his 2010 shooting death by former officer Ian Birk, and the $1.75 million paid to the family of Brian Torgeson, who suffered severe brain damage during a violent arrest earlier that same year.
Correction: Information in this article, originally published June 17, 2015, was corrected June 18, 2015. A previous version of this story misspelled former Seattle police officer Ian Birk’s name.