Posts Tagged ‘Stewart Estes’

This morning in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, attorneys for the City of Bainbridge Island and the family of Douglas Ostling argued the city’s post-trial motions before Judge Ronald Leighton.

In June, a jury awarded $1 million to Bill and Joyce Ostling whose son, Douglas, was shot and killed in 2010 by Bainbridge police officer, Jeff Benkert. The jury found that Benkert did not violate Ostling’s constitutional rights, but nevertheless awarded $1 million against the city for failure to train its officers in dealing with the mentally ill.

The city filed a motion asking Judge Leighton to enter a Judgment as a Matter of Law (which would set aside the jury’s verdict because it was not valid under the law). In a second motion, the city asked for a new trial for former police chief Jon Fehlman, because he was unable to attend trial and testify on his own behalf after he was hospitalized with pancreatitis.

Judge Leighton told the lawyers to focus primarily on the first motion in oral argument, questioning whether Fehlman “plays a role in this at all.” He later elaborated on that statement, saying that Fehlman was “in effect a placeholder” who acted in his official capacity on behalf of the city. Ostling attorney Nathan Roberts agreed, saying Fehlman’s absence from trial didn’t matter because the eventual judgment “will never be against his personal assets.” Roberts suggested that because the city appointed Lt. Phil Hawkins as acting police chief during the trial while Fehlman was ill, Hawkins would have been available to testify and should perhaps have been on the verdict form instead of Fehlman. (more…)

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As expected, the City’s attorneys filed a post-trial motion in U.S. District Court yesterday, asking the Court to enter judgment in favor of the City, and invalidate the jury’s $1 million verdict for the Ostling family.

The Ostlings sued the City, Police Chief Jon Fehlman and Officer Jeff Benkert for violating Douglas Ostling’s constitutional rights when he was shot and killed by Officer Benkert in 2010. On June 1, a jury found that Officer Benkert did not violate Ostling’s constitutional rights. Nevertheless, it found that Chief Fehlman and the City failed to properly train its police officers and on that basis, it rendered the $1 million verdict in favor of the Ostlings.

This motion is not an appeal, but rather a request to the Court to set aside the jury’s verdict as a matter of law. If the motion is not granted, the City can appeal the verdict.

The City’s motion claims that the jury was given flawed instructions by the Court, due to a “last-minute change” on the failure-to train claim. The City argues that the change was made “based on misrepresentations of Plaintiff’s counsel” as to 9th Circuit precedent as well as the Plaintiff’s legal complaint. Due to these errors, the City argues, “The jury mistakenly believed it could find liability against Chief Fehlman and the City without finding Officer Benkert violated Douglas Ostling’s rights. If the Court had simply followed the 9th Circuit model instructions, as proposed by the Defendants, this problem could have been avoided.” (more…)

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On Friday, a jury awarded $1 million to the family of Douglas OstlingOstling was a mentally ill man who was shot and killed by Bainbridge Island police officer Jeff Benkert after Benkert and Officer Dave Portrey responded to a 911 call at the Ostling home.

The jury found that Officer Jeff Benkert did not conduct an unreasonable search the night of the shooting. They also found that Benkert did not use excessive force or unreasonably fail to render medical aid to Ostling.

The jury found, however, that the City of Bainbridge Island and police chief Jon Fehlman failed to properly train the city’s police officers in dealing with the mentally ill, and awarded $1 million for that failure. Ostling’s parents, Joyce and Bill Ostling, were each awarded $400,000 and the estate of Douglas Ostling was awarded $200,000. Fehlman and the City will be indemnified by the City’s insurance pool.  (more…)

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As Judge Leighton showed increasing impatience with the pace of the questioning, lawyers from both sides picked it up on Friday. Plaintiff’s attorney Nathan Roberts advised the judge that he expected to rest their case on Tuesday, and would be eliminating several witnesses previously scheduled to testify. Lawyers seemed more prepared with their exhibits, and their questions were more focused.

Defense attorney Stewart Estes put on the legal performance of the day, conducting a skilled cross-examination of the plaintiff’s policing expert, Sue Peters. The drooping jury sat up straight and turned from Estes to Peters and back as if they were watching a tennis match. (more…)

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