K-9 Ronin in 2015. (Snohomish County K9 Facebook)

K-9 Ronin in 2015. (Snohomish County K9 Facebook)

County pays $104K to settle lawsuits against sheriff’s office

The two lawsuits involved a man who was bit by a police dog and a man who was hit by a patrol car.

EVERETT — Snohomish County settled two lawsuits against the sheriff’s office, one stemming from a police dog encounter, the other an incident where a patrol vehicle struck a pedestrian.

A case filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle by a man who was bitten by a police dog in 2017 was settled on Jan. 21 for $20,000.

The other, filed in Snohomish County Superior Court, alleged a deputy was negligent when he hit a man with a patrol car in 2014. The county agreed to pay $84,000 on Feb. 16 to end that case.

By settling, the county is not admitting liability to the incidents. It is also avoiding attorney and expert witness fees, as well as other costs associated with going to trial, which would likely exceed the settlement amounts in these two cases, officials said.

The county council does not have to approve settlements lower than $100,000.

“The settlements speak for themselves,” county spokesperson Kent Patton said. He declined to comment any further.

In court papers, county lawyers fiercely contested the accuracy of both lawsuits.

The dog bite

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District court in January 2020 claimed battery and a violation of civil rights, alleging sheriff’s deputies Art Wallin and Nathan Smith unjustifiably used a dog to attack the plaintiff, Marlon Smith, north of Mill Creek.

Wallin and deputy Smith had little information when they arrived at the scene of a reported robbery on June 20, 2017, according to documents. They knew a woman had called 911, saying she was being mugged by a man in a red shirt with weapons in the 3100 block of 132nd Street SE.

But they couldn’t find the woman or get in touch with her again on the phone. They didn’t see any potential victim at the scene around 12:30 a.m., according to records.

They did see a man matching the description from the 911 caller walking away from them. When one deputy, Smith, tried to get the man’s attention, he reportedly ran into some woods, according to police reports.

Wallin reported he deployed the dog while pursuing the man based on the “totality of circumstances,” including information from dispatch of an armed robbery, a man attempting to evade police and the possibility of a victim. He said in his report that alternative uses of force, such as a stun gun or baton, would not be effective in the thick vegetation.

The plaintiff and county attorneys disagreed on basic facts.

Marlon Smith claimed the deputies gave him no commands to stop, and no warnings that a police dog would be ordered to bite him if he didn’t surrender. The county said commands and warnings were given.

Marlon Smith claimed Wallin let the police dog off the leash. County attorneys wrote that the dog, Ronin, was kept on the leash.

Marlon Smith claimed he had suffered a severe, long-lasting injury that required surgery as a result of the dog bite. The county suggested otherwise. Wallin reported the bite injury was comparable to other dog bites he’s seen.

County attorneys wrote that Wallin and Nathan Smith acted in good faith that night, and that their actions were justified.

An internal investigation by the sheriff’s office determined Wallin violated department policy. The deputy received a letter of reprimand.

“It is understood that at times you need to make decisions quickly as information is rapidly received and processed,” sheriff’s Capt. Scott Parker wrote in a disciplinary letter to Wallin. “However, in this particular incident there was no exigency to rush the deployment of a canine, especially considering there had been no contact or identification of the reporting party or a victim, or anyone for that matter having information or knowledge about what was being reported to 911.”

The pedestrian

The second lawsuit, filed on July 29, 2015, alleged a sheriff’s deputy was negligent when he hit a 51-year-old pedestrian with his patrol car.

The suit brought by the pedestrian argued the deputy “failed to keep a proper lookout ahead of him, failed to maintain his automobile in his lane of travel, travelled too fast for conditions, and failed to exercise proper care and caution for others,” while driving around 3 a.m. on Oct. 11, 2014.

The county made a counterclaim for malicious prosecution. Attorneys denied the pedestrian was “carefully walking along the shoulder of Highway 92.” Instead, county attorneys argued, the pedestrian wore dark clothing, was intoxicated and was walking in the middle of the road. Furthermore, it was dark outside, and a sleet-like rain was falling on the roadway, creating poor visibility.

Before the deputy hit the pedestrian, another driver said she had a narrow miss with the man. According to her account, she didn’t see him until she “was virtually on top of him,” according to court records. She slammed on her brakes, jerked her steering wheel to the left and nearly drove into a ditch next to the oncoming lane.

The lawsuit argued that another driver being able to avoid the pedestrian was proof the deputy wasn’t paying attention.

Another driver reported she was behind the deputy when the patrol car hit the pedestrian. She noted that she and the deputy were going under the speed limit because of the weather. The patrol car in front of her didn’t appear to be drifting to one side or the other, she said, according to court records. The deputy’s headlights were reportedly on.

When she saw the patrol car hit something, or someone, she stopped. When she found a man on the ground, injured, he smelled of whiskey, she reported.

The deputy also noted the man was wearing headphones.

The pedestrian was taken to Harborview Medical Center. He had no memory of the crash. The county suggested the defense’s argument was speculation, based on how the man usually walked the road, not on the available evidence.

Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; zbryan@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @zachariahtb.

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