City of Kent settles police-shooting lawsuit for $400,000
By STEVE HUNTER
Kent Reporter Courts, government reporter
July 27, 2009 · Updated 10:12 AM
The city of Kent has agreed to pay $400,000 to settle a civil lawsuit filed against the city by a man who was shot and injured by a bullet in 2003 fired by a Kent Police officer.
Nicomedes Tubar, the man who was shot, had filed the lawsuit to seek damages of more than $1 million. Attorneys for the city and Tubar met and reached an agreement at a July 15 settlement conference.
But the debate continued over whether the officer acted properly, specifically when he fired a third shot at the vehicle in which Tubar was a passenger.
“We are pleased to have the case concluded,” Kent Police Chief Steve Strachan said in a statement e-mailed July 16 to the media. “The officer in this case acted properly in a quickly evolving situation brought on by the criminal actions of a driver of a stolen car.”
Tim Ford, the attorney for Tubar, said Strachan's statement could send the wrong message to police officers.
"That's very discouraging to hear him say," Ford said in a phone interview Thursday. "I understand that officers are human and make mistakes. But the officer shot an unarmed person who didn't do anything.
"For the chief to say it's OK, that's very disappointing. I hope it does not send a message to police in Kent or anywhere else that they can shoot an unarmed man."
Strachan said, in a phone interview Friday, that Ford looked at the incident "as a plaintiff attorney with a job to do from a very specific perspective and tries to do all he can to cast people in a negative light."
Strachan said the police department takes a critical look at any action by an officer.
"We want to recognize the difficult decisions officers have to make in a split second," Strachan said. "But we also owe it to the public that we are very critical in evaluating the actions of officers, which we are, including in this case."
A jury in June found Jason Clift, the Kent Police officer involved in the shooting, did not violate Tubar's civil rights by shooting him.
But U.S. District Judge John Coughenour said prior to the settlement conference that he might set aside that verdict because he did not think the jury would rule in favor of Clift and the city.
Coughenour questioned whether the third shot fired by Clift was necessary because it appeared the officer was no longer in danger of being hit by the vehicle, Ford said. The judge did not expect the jury to find the third shot by the officer reasonable. The third shot entered through the driver's-side window and struck Tubar.
Clift and his lawyers claimed he reacted in self defense within a manner of seconds against a car that was coming toward him in a dark parking lot.
The potential actions by the judge to order a new trial or overturn jury's verdict caused the city to try to reach a settlement.
“After this lengthy and expensive litigation, the city was very pleased with, and had great faith in, the determination of the jury,” Strachan stated in the e-mail. “Unfortunately, the judge indicated his intent to overturn the jury’s verdict or order a new trial.”
The decision by city officials to settle indicated their doubts about what the judge would do, Ford said.
"I think it reflects the fact that the city and defense were not real confident that the jury verdict would hold up," Ford said.
In June 2003, Clift reportedly fired three shots at a stolen vehicle at an East Hill parking lot because he thought the driver was attempting to run him down. Wounded in the firings was Tubar, the passenger. The driver was uninjured.
An internal investigation of the shooting by the Kent Police as well as an outside investigation by the Auburn Police found the shooting justified, Strachan said.
Strachan said to appeal the judge’s decision or to retry the case would have been an extremely expensive and lengthy process for the city.
The $400,000 will be paid out of an insurance fund that the city pays a premium to carry, Strachan said. The payment will not come out of the city's general fund.Contact Kent Reporter Courts, government reporter Steve Hunter at email@example.com or 253-872-6600, ext. 5052.