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Tooele officials, police settle civil rights suit over '93 arrest

Published: Saturday, May 24 1997 12:00 a.m. MDT

City officials, the police department and the estate of a former officer have settled a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by a Tooele woman, who claimed she was wrongly arrested.

Witnesses told police in 1993 that Traci Scharmann, the daughter of Frank Scharmann, who is now the Tooele County sheriff, started a fight at a tavern in Tooele. But officer Kevin Lawson arrested Jeneil Warr, 34.At the time, Frank Scharmann was a Tooele police lieutenant and Lawson's supervisor.

"Officer Lawson evidently felt he had to arrest someone, preferably not the daughter of his boss, and Jeneil Warr suffered harm as a result," said Warr's attorney, Brian Barnard.

In a lawsuit filed in early 1995, Warr alleged her rights were violated. The city, police department and the estate of Lawson - who was killed in a car accident in September 1994 - agreed last month to pay $31,500 to settle the suit.

Barnard said Lawson never saw any fight or disturbance involving Warr at the Sports Bar on Feb. 4, 1993. But nine witnesses signed sworn affidavits that they saw Traci Scharmann start a fight.

Traci Scharmann was not arrested, although she was later charged with and pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. Criminal charges against Warr were dismissed in November 1993.

Barnard said state law prohibits arresting a person suspected of committing a misdemeanor unless the officer has an arrest warrant for the suspect or the officer witnessed the crime.

Attorney Donald Purser, representing the city and Lawson's estate, said Wednesday that the parties decided to settle given the cost of litigation and the fact "the police officer who was the best witness had died."

However, Purser said he believes a jury would have sided with them had the matter gone to trial.

"If you were cognizant of the parties and the information initially obtained, a jury would reasonably conclude that Kevin Lawson did not act unreasonably," he said.

Frank Scharmann did not immediately return a telephone message on Wednesday.

A portion of Warr's lawsuit filed against Tooele County is still pending. Warr claims that while she was at the Tooele County Jail, Lawson and jail staff asked her to remove her pants for evidence.

Warr had to arrange for a friend to bring her bail and a new pair of pants to wear home, Barnard said.

The county's attorney, Robert Wallace, said negotiations are continuing over that claim.

"Obviously we think the major players are the city and that we have a minor role or no role," he said.

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