County to pay $60,000 in excessive force complaint

Published June 5, 2009 5:59 pm
Safety » One plaintiff says he sued to encourage the Sheriff's Office to change.
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Police reaction to a teenager's complaint about his parents and their friends being too loud has led to a $60,000 payout by Salt Lake County.

That's how much the county will pay to settle a lawsuit over a 2007 episode in which Salt Lake County Sheriff's deputies used pepper spray and Tasers in an effort to check on the well-being of the 16-year-old. The boy's 15-year-old friend called police after listening to him complain he couldn't sleep.

The settlement comes on the heels of an acquittal on disorderly conduct charges for the boy's father, Stephen M. Perry, and husband and wife John Gitlin and Marika Barber. Barber had been singing a Carpenter's song when deputies knocked on the door.

Gitlin said Friday he didn't pursue the lawsuit for money.

"I just hope the next time the police show up somewhere and operate outside the source of their jobs, there will be some policy to remedy that," he said.

The case began on Feb. 28, 2007, when five adults were in a home mixing video and audio for a work presentation. They drank a few glasses of wine and beer as they worked, but were not excessive, Gitlin said.

But the teenage boy living in the home told a friend via telephone that he could not sleep because his parents were loud. The teenage friend called police.

The sheriff's office responded to the home in the Canyon Rim Neighborhood as one person inside was singing "Top of the World" as a joke, Gitlin said. When deputies knocked on the door, they asked to speak with the teenager.

Perry came to the door, but refused to allow the deputies to enter without a warrant, according to the lawsuit. A deputy sprayed Perry with pepper spray and went inside, the complaint said.

Gitlin said as deputies entered, he raised his hands in the air and told deputies he was not a combatant. But a deputy sprayed Gitlin with pepper spray then shot him twice with a Taser, he said. The second shot occurred while Gitlin was on the ground, he said.

Deputies also used pepper spray and a Taser against Barber.

Gitlin, Barber and Perry were charged with misdemeanors for disorderly conduct, interfering with an arrest and assault on police, but a jury acquitted them of all charges. The three then sued six deputies, contending they used excessive force and that their warrantless search was unlawful.

Walter Bugden, an attorney for Gitlin, said the three have no criminal history. They "felt it was important they file civil rights complaints to prevent police officers from using excessive force in the future."

Salt Lake County Sheriff's Lt. Don Hutson said internal affairs investigators reviewed the case and found the deputies acted within office policy. None were disciplined. In general, Hutson said, deputies can use what force they believe is necessary.

In settling the civil lawsuit, neither the county nor the deputies admitted any fault or liability, said Nick D'Alesandro, a deputy district attorney who represented two of the deputies.

"There was a dispute as to the basic facts in the incident and all of the witnesses seemed to be associated with one side or the other," D'Alesandro said.

Perry's attorney declined comment Friday. Gitlin said he is still hoping the sheriff's office changes its policy on when deputies can use force.

"I would have never pursued this if they would have said, 'You know what? After reviewing the case, we don't feel like it was done with a level of professional conduct. We apologize.' "

ncarlisle@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">ncarlisle@sltrib.com

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