5/29/2018Washington: Cop On Hook For Door Checking Motorcyclist
Appellate court allows an excessive force lawsuit to proceed against a Washington state trooper who knocked a motorcyclist over the side of a bridge.
The Washington State Trooper who knocked a motorcyclist over the side of a bridge may be held liable for his actions. In a 71-page ruling last week, a divided state Court of Appeals rejected Trooper Bart Olson's request for immunity from the excessive force lawsuit filed by Thomas L. Sluman after suffering serious injuries on July 21, 2010.
On that morning, the only thing Trooper Olson knew was that a black 2006 Yamaha R1 motorcycle had been seen speeding on Interstate 90. He heard the report from a state police pilot who claimed to have measured the motorcycle at 76 to 89 MPH in the 70 MPH zone.
Another trooper began pursuing with only his lights flashing, but Sluman never saw the squad car behind him. Sluman properly signaled as he left the interstate for South Thorp Highway. On his own accord, Trooper Olson decided to assist after hearing the radio chatter. Ignoring an order to break off the pursuit, the trooper set his squad car in the middle of the highway on a bridge across the Yakima River, ahead of Sluman.
"And, anyway, the motorcyclist was coming at me," Trooper Olson testified. "And I could see the speed of the motorcycle, which was at a high rate, rapidly slowing... I'm going to place this person in custody or... they're going to be going slow enough that if it comes down to it I'm going to basically horse collar this person off the motorcycle and end this pursuit."
Another trooper testified that it looked like Sluman was about to stop, but when Trooper Olson shot his door outward, he knocked Sluman off the Yakima River Bridge onto the ground 30 feet below. The 23-year-old broke his right leg, pubic bone, tailbone and left elbow, requiring multiple surgeries and skin grafts.
State police regulations only authorize such extreme measures to stop a pursuit with the approval of a supervisor in the case of a serious, violent crime. In his report on the incident, Trooper Olson did not mention he intentionally opened the door of his cruiser. As a result, the court discounted nature of the trooper's testimony as self-serving.
"Olson asserts that he acted, as part of a team, to protect citizens at a well-traveled intersection from a motorcyclist traveling at speeds over 120 miles per hour," Judge Fearing wrote. "Olson did not act as a team. Instead, the undisputed facts show he performed as a rogue officer who violated numerous Washington State Patrol regulations."
The judges found reason to suspect the speed estimates were inflated while also rejecting the notion that lethal force would ever be justified to stop an unarmed, non-violent suspect who does not pose an imminent threat to anyone.
"Law enforcement sought to stop Sluman for speeding," Judge George B. Fearing wrote for the three-judge panel. "Washington State Patrol officers did not even seek to capture Sluman because of a crime. Sluman was not armed. No officer knew that Sluman discerned he was being pursued. According to Trooper Paul Blume, Sluman never looked in his direction. Thus, no officer knew that Sluman sought to elude the police."
What the officers did not know at the time was the Yamaha was stolen. A copy of the ruling is available in a 400k PDF file at the source link below.