Sunday, August 7, 2011

$1 award in police case will cost city $423,000

The $1 that Andrew Rutherford was awarded after he successfully sued Seattle police for holding him at gunpoint too long will wind up costing the city more than $423,000

The $1 that Andrew Rutherford was awarded after he successfully sued Seattle police for holding him at gunpoint too long will wind up costing the city more than $423,000.

But it could've been worse.

Rutherford's lawyers had asked U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman to approve attorneys' fees and costs totaling more than $419,000. On Thursday, Pechman ordered the city to pay "a reasonable" award of costs and attorneys fees: $92,042.12.

That amount is in addition to what the city has paid private law firm Stafford Frey Cooper to defend the officers involved, which was $331,000 at the end of June. The city on Friday did not have an updated amount paid to the firm.

But that amount could increase if the city decides to appeal the judge's order. Kimberly Mills, spokeswoman for Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, said Friday that "we're considering our options," including a possible appeal.

In finding Rutherford's attorneys were entitled to fees, Pechman wrote: "This litigation has served a public good by airing a constitutional violation. Rutherford is thus entitled to a reasonable award of the attorney's fees and costs that were incurred in prosecuting this matter."

Jay Krulewich and Michael Kolker, the two lawyers representing Rutherford, declined Friday to comment on the judge's order.

Rutherford — who had asked for $3 million in his initial claim against the city — was awarded the $1 verdict by Pechman in June in response to a confusing jury verdict after his seven-day trial in U.S. District Court.

The case arose from a 2007 incident in which rookie police Officer Jonathan Chin, who was off-duty, in plain clothes and driving his personal car, said he was cut off in traffic on Capitol Hill by a black Jeep that ran a red light. Dialing 911, Chin followed the car to a dead-end street in West Seattle, where he confronted three men who were standing outside the vehicle. Rutherford had been a passenger in the car.

Alone and outnumbered, Chin drew a handgun and ordered the men to sit in the darkened street while waiting for backup officers to arrive.

Rutherford claimed he and his two friends were ordered to sit in the street while other officers sped to the scene. Rutherford alleged a cruiser roared toward him, and out of fear he jumped up to move out of the way. When that happened, he claimed, Chin and officers Joshua Rurey and Jason McKissack — the driver of the patrol car — tackled him.

Rutherford was charged with obstructing an officer, but the charge was dismissed.

He suffered facial and head injuries that left him with more than $3,500 in medical bills, according to court pleadings.

The jury did not award him damages for those injuries and found that the officers had not used excessive force nor unlawfully arrested Rutherford.

The jury in the civil-rights trial cleared Chin and four other officers of allegations they used excessive force, and found that Chin was within his rights to briefly detain the men at gunpoint for investigative purposes. But the jury found that the detention went on too long, violating Rutherford's civil rights.

However, the jury determined that Rutherford was not entitled to damages.

Pechman, in a rare move, reopened the damages portion of Rutherford's civil-rights case and awarded him $1. The award allowed his lawyers to seek attorneys fees from the city.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

By Jennifer Sullivan, Seattle Times staff reporter, 206-464-8294,

Source: Seattle Times Newspaper

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