The city of Fredericksburg has settled a lawsuit that claimed its police officers used excessive force against an unarmed man who was suffering from a stroke.
Attorneys for David Washington filed the suit in March 2016, 10 months after he was shot with a Taser and pepper-sprayed by an officer, according to the complaint. Washington was unarmed, but police considered him a hit-and-run suspect after his car allegedly struck another vehicle and knocked down a road sign before coming to a stop at the intersection of Cowan Boulevard and Powhatan Street.
The parties signed a confidential settlement agreement early this year, said Alexandria attorney Donald Rosendorf, who helped represent Washington. The suit, filed in federal court in Richmond, requested at least $5 million in damages, alleging excessive force, denial of medical care, battery and other wrongdoing by the officers.
“Police misconduct cases, they’re difficult to win,” Rosendorf said. “I think we were satisfied, and the client was satisfied, with the settlement.”
A Fredericksburg police spokeswoman declined to comment on the settlement. Fredericksburg City Attorney Kathleen Dooley, replying to a Freedom of Information Act request from The Free Lance–Star, said the city did not have copies of a settlement agreement or settlement payments.
An outside attorney handled the case for the city. Settlement agreements are not considered public documents unless a government agency possesses them.
It’s not the only lawsuit related to the case. Former city police officer Shaun Jurgens, who said he was forced to resign after the incident, filed a defamation lawsuit against his ex-employer over a Fredericksburg police news release stating the use of force against Washington was inappropriate. A Circuit Court judge last week found that Jurgens had not stated a legally sufficient case, but gave him three weeks to amend the complaint.
An attorney for Jurgens did not return a phone call or email requesting comment.
Jurgens, who became a Spotsylvania County sheriff’s deputy last year, maintains he did nothing wrong when he used a Taser and then pepper-spray.
Washington’s lawsuit claimed he was in “obvious and critical need of emergency medical care” and never gave police a reason to believe he posed a threat. It lists the city, Jurgens, and Officers Matt Deschenes and Crystal Hill as defendants.
The suit claimed Deschenes and Hill held Washington at gunpoint for several minutes as he sat unresponsive in the driver’s seat of his stopped car. The officers asked him to show his hands and exit the car, but Washington could not do so because he had suffered from a stroke while driving.
According to the lawsuit, Jurgens arrived several minutes later and fired a Taser at Washington with no verbal warning, striking him in the face. Deschenes then holstered his firearm and opened the driver’s side door of Washington’s car, “further confirming” the suspect had no weapons. The suit said Jurgens sprayed a can of pepper spray into Washington’s face, drew his gun and shouted: “Get out the car or I’m going to [expletive] smoke you!”
The lawsuit says after Deschenes pulled Washington from the vehicle, the car rolled backward and a tire struck Washington in the foot as he lay handcuffed on the road. Hill then drove the vehicle off Washington’s foot, the suit said.
Washington continued pleading for help, but the officers did not call for medical support in a timely manner or render first aid to offset the effects of the pepper spray and Taser, the suit claimed.
The delay in medical treatment and “unreasonable use of force” contributed to Washington’s condition, which is expected to be permanent, the suit stated. Washington is unable to walk or stand without assistance, and his speech is impaired, according to the lawsuit.
An attorney for Jurgens wrote in court papers that her client did not violate Fredericksburg police policies and said any use of force was not excessive “given the facts and information known and/or available to the defendant at the time.” Court papers said Washington was driving with a revoked license.
An attorney for the rest of the defendants also denied wrongdoing, writing that the officers had probable cause to detain Washington and “take all reasonable actions” to protect themselves.
Attorneys for the defendants also cited qualified immunity, which protects police officers and other public officials from civil liability under many circumstances.