$100K settles Lake Stevens unlawful arrest lawsuit

  • Wed Dec 19th, 2012 7:55pm
  • News

By Diana Hefley and Rikki King Herald Writers

LAKE STEVENS — Lake Stevens officials on Wednesday agreed to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging that two police officers illegally arrested a man at his home in 2011.

The city has agreed to pay Brandon Fenter $100,000, Lake Stevens attorney Justin Monro said. The Fenters in return will drop the lawsuit they filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

“The Fenters are relieved this is all over so they can get on with their lives. They are very good people,” Monro said. “They just wanted Lake Stevens to know that they can’t do this to their citizens.”

The lawsuit was settled on Wednesday through mediation, Monro said. City officials had requested mediation before Fenter moved forward with the lawsuit.

“Litigation is a drain on taxpayer resources. The city decided to resolve this matter at the earliest stage possible to limit resources expended on the case. Settlement of this matter was the best resolution for all parties involved,” City Administrator Jan Berg wrote Wednesday in an e-mail to The Herald.

Monro said city officials admitted to him that the officers’ actions were indefensible.

Fenter was driving with his wife on 83rd Avenue NE on June 20, 2011. Warbis, who was walking with his family, waved him over. The off-duty officer accused Fenter of driving recklessly and told Fenter he’d be sending him a citation in the mail.

The next day, Fenter and his wife spotted two uniformed officers at their home, peering through their back fence.

“Remember me?” Warbis reportedly asked.

The Fenters allege that Warbis and officer James Wellington cursed and demanded Fenter come outside. They also allege that the officers kicked open their gate, breaking the latch. Fenter was arrested and jailed. Marysville city prosecutors later dropped the reckless driving charge.

Lake Stevens officials have repeatedly refused to answer questions about their internal investigation into the incident and whether sanctions were taken against the officers. Both officers remain on active duty, Berg said Wednesday. It is unclear whether that means either is patrolling the streets.

Former police chief Randy Celori wrote a letter to Fenter in May, saying he had concluded his officers were within their legal rights to arrest Fenter without a warrant. He also determined that the amount of force they used was appropriate.

Celori, however, wrote that he had and would be “taking appropriate action to improve the performance of the officers involved and ensure similar incidents of this nature are not repeated.” He concluded that the officers’ actions “were not at the high level of professionalism” he expected. He apologized to Fenter for his negative experience with Warbis and Wellington.

Meanwhile about a week after Celori wrote the letter, Warbis was investigated for taking part in a barroom brawl in Everett.

Warbis was shot in the forehead with a Taser fired by a man during a May 26 fight at the Fireplace Bar in Everett, according to police reports obtained by The Herald.

A bystander summoned Everett police after Warbis and another man got into a shoving match inside the bar. The two men reportedly were arguing about a classic car parked outside. Witnesses disputed who started the fight.

No one was arrested. Everett police officers said they couldn’t determine who was the primary aggressor. Everett city prosecutors later reviewed the police reports and witness statements. They declined to file charges against anyone.

Lake Stevens officials won’t say whether there was an internal investigation into the Everett incident.