Civil trial begins in wrongful death lawsuit of man tasered outside South Hill gym

SPOKANE, Wash. — A trial is underway in a family's civil lawsuit against two Spokane County deputies in connection to the death of a man in June 2013.

William Berger died after a confrontation with deputies outside what used to be Oz Fitness on Spokane's South Hill.

Officials said Deputy Shawn Audie and Steve Paynter tased Berger and wrestled him to the ground in a choke hold.  The deputies said they felt threatened by Berger.  Witnesses from that night also said they felt threatened.

Berger’s father, Bill, was at the confrontation and said his son was not dangerous.  Bill said he was in town helping Will move because he had just purchased his first home.  Before the incident, however, Will was in the emergency room.

"We checked him into the emergency room for an evaluation," Bill said at the time.  "All the people there said he was manic. He took a pill that evening."

Bill said back in 2014 his son's mental health state was improving, so, he dropped Will off at the gym to work out.  It was when he returned that the confrontation occurred.

Witnesses told police Berger was acting erratic.  Bill said he tried to interfere but nobody would listen.  Reports from the incident show that Berger took one of the deputies tasers and tried to use it against him.  Bill believes his son was just trying to get away.

“The day that Will was pronounced brain dead, I needed two things, I needed justice and I needed change,”  Berger's father said at the time.  “I'm not getting justice but I am going to make sure we get change.”

Berger’s parents hope to get more crisis intervention training across the state as well as raise awareness. 

The medical examiner's office said Berger died of oxygen deprivation to the brain and Spokane County prosecutors found the deputies were justified in their use of force. 

Berger's family filed the civil lawsuit for $100 million in damages, claiming the deputies used excessive force.

© 2017 KREM-TV


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