Update: Pullman Chief of Police Gary Jenkins has confirmed that the department reached a $500,000 settlement with Kyle North for the use of excessive force during a 2016 incident in which two officers allegedly tased him until he passed out, broke his arm and dislocated his elbow. The department does not admit any wrongdoing in the settlement.
Jenkins said in a statement that "my position is that the settlement was a business decision made by our insurance carrier to avoid the cost of a federal trial and the potential for an unfavorable jury verdict. We do not believe our officers did anything wrong and, if fact, handled the call well by employing their crisis intervention training with patience until the circumstances required officers to attempt to take Mr. North into custody. The officers’ actions were to control Mr. North and overcome the physical resistance he was presenting to them."
Days after a Pullman police sergeant was arrested for custodial sexual misconduct, KREM obtained documents about a lawsuit alleging that Pullman police officers used excessive force while taking a Washington State University student into custody in August 2016.
According to the lawsuit filed in federal court on Aug. 15, 2018, Kyle North is seeking damages claiming the officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights. He also accused the department of negligence, outrage, battery and assault. The suit names the City of Pullman Police Department, Officers Doug Anderson, Michael Sontgerath, Chief Gary Jenkins and Commander Chris Tennant.
Lawsuit documents state that North suffers from schizoaffective disorder and during an interaction with Anderson and Sontgerath, North claims the officers broke his arm, dislocated his elbow, tased him and choked him until he passed out. On Monday, KREM received a copy of the body camera footage.
In their response filed on Sept. 18, 2018, by an attorney representing the Pullman Police Department members, they denied any wrongdoing and asked for a jury trial.
According to the lawsuit, North drove to Moscow, Idaho on the night of August 17, 2016 with a friend. Over the course of the night the friend said North began exhibiting odd behavior and “grew increasingly paranoid and expressed concern that he was being followed.”
Documents from the lawsuit said North told his friend that he wanted to be alone and drove off in his car around midnight. His friend eventually contacted the Moscow Police Department because she was concerned about North’s safety, documents said. Officers asked the friend if North was on any drugs or if he had threatened to hurt himself. The friend told them no.
Moscow police contacted Pullman police for assistance in doing a welfare check on North. Lawsuit documents said Sontgerath was on duty at the time and started searching for North’s car, which was a grey Lexus, around Northeast Lower Drive in Pullman. When he was unable to find the car, Sontgerath deemed the matter closed, documents stated.
Then around 3:12 a.m. on Aug. 18, 2018, North walked into the Jack in the Box on Northeast Stadium Way and spoke with the night manager there. The lawsuit states that the manager said North looked “scared” and North has told him that “he feared people were following him with the intent to do harm and that he needed police protection.”
The manager asked North if he was sure he wanted him to call police and North insisted. North said, “he would feel better if he could sit down and talk with a police officer,” documents from the lawsuit said. Then, the manager called 911.
The lawsuit said Sontgerath and Anderson showed up to the restaurant and both were wearing body cameras that captured their entire interaction with North. The suit claims that both officers knew North was the subject of a welfare check issued by Moscow police.
When watching the body camera footage, the officers spend several minutes asking North questions to better understand why he needed help. They ask him what he is trying to do and if he wants to talk to a mental health professional.
Earlier in the body camera footage, officers mentioned to each other Moscow Police was looking for North on a welfare check. When they asked North if he'd been in Moscow with his friend earlier that evening, he became defensive.
North told the officer he was worried about his friend. He said she was missing and needed their help finding her. The suit said North also told them, “he was not feeling well and everything was a “blur” and while he was talking he was “rapidly rotating his right hand, side to side, in quick short motions while snapping his right hand fingers.”
Documents from the lawsuit said the officers were later able to confirm North’s friend wasn’t missing and was the person who requested a welfare check for North hours earlier. The officers also searched North and “did not find any weapons, alcohol or illegal drugs.” The suit claims the officers made no effort to assure North that his friend was safe.
Sontgerath asked North if he wanted to go to the hospital and said he would escort him there, documents show.
“After confirming that North was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, a plan was reached whereby Officer Sontgerath would drive his squad car to the hospital and North would follow directly behind in his Lexus,” the lawsuit stated.
As they were discussing the plan, North was overcome by an auditory hallucination, documents said. Sontgerath saw North hallucinating and said , “What Kyle?”
According to lawsuit documents North said, “I need… I need help.”
Sontgerath said, “I know, that is way we are going to the hospital.”
“Thank you for helping me,” North replied.
Court documents said North got up to head to the door, but he still thought there were people outside that wanted to hurt him. North asked the officers to go out the door first, documents said.
Sontgerath said, “Nope. I’m walking behind you. You are not walking behind me,” documents said.
North started to walk backwards away from the officers and said, “But I’m following you there,” documents said. He then moved away from the door and back to the area next to the service counter where he previously waited for the officers, documents said.
Sontgerath and Anderson yelled at North and threatened him with arrest if he walked behind the counter, the lawsuit claims. North told them he didn’t want to go behind the counter, he just wanted to remain standing against the wall. According to the lawsuit, the officers demanded that North leave the restaurant, so they could “run a business.”
Sontgerath told North that if he did not agree to leave voluntarily, the officers would take him involuntarily, documents said. North had another auditory hallucination, but he regained his composure and asked for a drink of water, documents said.
When North started to go toward the water dispenser, Sontgerath grabbed him by “both wrists, pushed him back against the wall next to the customer counter.”
Sontgerath said, “If you fight me, you are going to get hurt,” documents said.
The lawsuit claims that Sontgerath grabbed North’s right arm and Anderson grabbed North’s left arm. They “both pulled North’s arms behind his back as they pushed him to his knees and then face down on the floor,” documents stated. North did not resist in any way, according to documents.
The lawsuit said, “Sontgerath broke North’s right arm…and dislocated his elbow.”
“He broke my arm! He broke my arm! Help me! God help me! Don’t let them do this,” North yelled, according to documents from the lawsuit.
The lawsuit said Sontgerath informed North that he was in “protective custody,” that he was going to the hospital and that he would be expected to “cooperate.”
Anderson and Sontgerath pulled North to his feet and told him to walk toward the side door of the restaurant, documents said. The lawsuit said, “North hooked his leg inside the office door and fell to the ground, with his upper torso in the office and his right leg extended out to the customer counter.”
Then, the lawsuit said Sontgerath asked one of the restaurant employees to call paramedics. The suit claims the officers continued to press down on North’s injured arm as he shouted out in pain.
“You’re gonna get tased in a second. Knock it off,” Anderson said, according to documents.
The lawsuit said North started praying and Anderson told him, “You should pray for yourself.”
Documents from the lawsuit said North remained handcuffed and face down on the ground until the officers decided that they were going to take him out of the office. The lawsuit claims, “Officer Sontgerath grabbed North’s right leg and Officer Anderson grabbed North’s right broken arm and attempted to drag North across the floor.” North screamed out in pain again.
Documents said Anderson grabbed North by his right arm and tried to get him to stand up. North screamed in pain and the lawsuit claims that “Officer Anderson flew into a rage.”
“He removed his taser from his belt and tased North three times in rapid succession while screaming, ‘Get out! Get out! Get out!’
According to documents, Anderson said, “I’m gonna put you out.”
Lawsuit documents said North begged for help saying, “Yes sir. I’m going. You have my word. You have my word. You have my word. Oh, please. Please help.”
As he was pleading for help lawsuit documents stated, “Officer Anderson placed his left arm around North’s neck in a lateral vascular neck restraint and, by the neck, pulled North’s body to a standing position while screaming at North to ‘get up.’”
Lawsuit documents said Anderson continued to pull back on North’s neck until his feet were no longer flat on the floor and his body weight was being held up by Anderson’s arm around North’s neck.
“North uttered ‘help me’ and moaned faintly before falling silent,” the lawsuit said.
Lawsuit documents said the paramedics arrived, gave North Ketamine, put him on a gurney and took him to the emergency hospital.
The emergency room doctor asked Sontgerath to explain how the injuries happened. The lawsuit claims Sontgerath admitted that he “took North’s right arm, put it behind his back and ‘reamed on it.’”
The lawsuit claims Sontgerath said, “North was combative and that the officers had ‘no choice’ if they wanted to return home safely to their families.”
The suit also claims that Sontgerath failed to tell the doctor that they “repeatedly pulled on North’s arm and pressed down on his right shoulder,” and that they tased North three times and “choked him into unconsciousness.”
The lawsuit said Anderson and Sontgerath completed a post-incident “Use of Force Report.”
The lawsuit claims Commander Tennant and Chief Jenkins reviewed the officers’ body cam footage and “no corrective action was taken against either officer and no further investigation was conducted.”
According to the claim, Anderson’s taser was not confiscated and he lacked certification to use a taser.
The lawsuit said Tennant’s report stated, “the incident was not crisis intervention related and contrary to all evidence, indicates that North was under the influence of intoxicants.”
The lawsuit states that North has regained use of his arm but has permanent reduction in his range of motion. The suit also said the functioning in his elbow is permanently compromised.
KREM reached out to Pullman Police for a statement about what is seen in the body camera footage. They referred us to their lawyers.
Chief Jenkins sent this note along as well, "In the 2017-2018 Legislative Session, the Legislature created the Mental Health Field Response Teams Program and appropriated $1 million for grants and operation of the program in the 2018 Supplemental Operating Budget for the fiscal year (July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019). The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) was tasked with developing and operating the grant program. We considered applying for one of those grants, but we found that we did not have enough resources in our area to support it. Regionally, the Spokane County Sheriff's Department is a grant recipient."