Prosecuting attorney issues response to civil rights lawsuit

The San Juan County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office issued this response to a civil rights lawsuit filed against the county by a Friday Harbor resident ("Friday Harbor woman sues San Juan County; alleges police brutality, unlawful search and seizure," July 21

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Friday Harbor resident Toni Michele has sued San Juan County in Federal District Court in Seattle claiming damages after two officers responded to her residence on a domestic violence call at approximately 10:00 p.m. on March 21, 2010.

Before the County was served with the suit, the attorney for Ms. Michel announced the lawsuit with a news release. A jury trial has been requested.

“The description of events in the plaintiff attorney’s news release does not correspond to the reports made at the time of the incident,” said Prosecuting Attorney Randall K. Gaylord.

Police reports show that two deputies responded to a residence on Argyle Avenue in Friday Harbor after a neighbor called the Sheriff’s office to report that he’d hear a man yelling and loud banging in the residence. According to the Deputy’s incident report, when Deputy Nikki Rogers approached, Toni Michele answered the door and appeared intoxicated. Ms. Michele acknowledged that an argument had occurred, that the man involved was gone. She invited Deputy Rogers, to confirm that she was the only one in the house and that no one was hurt.

But police reports state that when Deputy Brad Korth arrived, Ms. Michele tried to prevent both Deputies from entering her house. A commotion ensued, a Taser was used, and Ms. Michele arrested for resisting arrest, obstructing a law enforcement officer and assault in the 3rd degree. Ms. Michele continued to resist arrest until she was placed into a patrol car.

A brief medical examination was made at the jail. Later, she was formally charged with obstructing a law enforcement officer and assault in the fourth degree. Those charges were subsequently dismissed at the request of the prosecuting attorney.

Ms. Michele made a claim of damages in the amount of $250,000 without providing documentation to support the claim.

“The police officers acted in their community caretaking role,” said Prosecutor Randall K. Gaylord. “On every domestic violence call, officers have an obligation to make a reasonable check to see that a home is safe.”

Gaylord added that here an emergency existed to check the home to assure the safety of Ms. Michele and anyone else who may have been at the residence. The fact that Ms. Michele was uncooperative is unfortunate but that does not change the officers’ duty. “We know that victims of domestic violence are sometimes uncooperative out of fear of retribution by their abusers,” said Gaylord.

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