An administrative foul-up involving a police-brutality case has set Salt Lake City up for a lawsuit, the president of the Salt Lake Police Union said Tuesday.
Last week, a Salt Lake couple filed a $3.3 million lawsuit charging that a Salt Lake police officer beat the handcuffed husband while another officer restrained the wife from getting help.The police department sent the couple a letter three months later stating that their complaint of excessive force had been substantiated. "Appropriate action is being taken," the letter stated.
But David Greer said the letter to Darin and Rebecca Walker was sent prematurely because the case had not yet gone through the department's review process.
Shortly after the letter was sent, police administrators determined that Officer Dennis C. Huie had actually followed correct police procedure and the use of force was found to be appropriate. He was cleared in the internal investigation and the matter was dropped, Greer said.
"The case had been wrongly sustained by a division commander who failed to adequately consider all of the legal grounds concerning Officer Huie's conduct," Greer said.
The union president said that the letter gives the department a bad name because it creates the appearance that police administrators are "whitewashing" the investigation.
"The administrative mishandling of the review of that case was bungled. It laid the department wide open (for a lawsuit)," he said.
But the family's lawyer said the letter had nothing to do with the suit. The suit is based on a police beating that began in the family's apartment and continued in the parking lot.
Attorney Steven Dougherty said the family contacted him a few days after the beating. Work on the complaint was well under way when the family received a Dec. 13 letter from the Salt Lake Police Department advising them that Huie had violated police department policy.
The letter was included in the complaint "only to let the city know that we had allowed the police to conclude their criminal investigation before filing a civil complaint," Dougherty said.
The Walkers say that Huie beat Darin Walker with a metal nightstick, slugged him in the face and back with his fist, threw him down a flight of stairs, shoved him down two more flights and slammed his face into the windshield of a police car.
The suit also accuses the officers of false arrest and unreasonable search of the couple's house.
Huie and officer Roderic C. Hunt were dispatched to the Walker home on Sept. 13 after Rebecca Walker's mother phoned police to say there might be trouble there, according to the lawsuit. When the officers arrived, they insisted on entering the home, despite the fact that Rebecca Walker told them everything was fine.
The officers demanded to know Darin Walker's name. When he refused, the brutality began, the suit claims.
But Greer said Huie's version of the incident varies greatly from the Walkers' version. He added that Huie had "clear-cut grounds for an arrest" when Darin Walker refused to tell police his name. He was arrested for obstructing an investigation and resisting arrest.
When Darin Walker did not immediately give his name, Huie asked Rebecca Walker for her husband's name, the suit said. She gave Huie his name, but Huie decided to arrest Darin Walker anyway - apparently for his silence.
"We can only speculate on what set (Huie) off. We don't know if he felt that Darin was challenging his authority and he needed to teach him a lesson. We felt that much of what the officers did after they handcuffed Darin was simply retribution because he didn't kowtow to what they wanted him to do," Dougherty said.
Greer said Capt. Michael Frisbey - who is now retired - determined that there had been excessive force mostly because he believed Huie had no reason to make an arrest. But upon reviewing the case, Chief Michael Chabries determined that the arrest was necessary and lawful.
Since the incident, Greer said letters to those who complain against police officers are not sent until the internal process is complete.