A Kent man has sued the city of Bothell, King County and several of their police officers in federal court for illegally coercing a false murder confession out of him in 1995 when he was 16 years old.
That and other false evidence manufactured by Bothell Police officers, and the suppression of exonerating evidence, led a court to sentence the teenage Ian Simmers to nearly 50 years in prison, according to a Jan. 26 press release from Chicago-based Loevy & Loevy, which has won more multi-million dollar jury verdicts over the past decade than any other civil rights law firm in the country, according to its website.
“Ian was robbed of the prime of his life, including the opportunity to pursue a career and build a family through his 20s and 30s,” according to the suit. “Instead, Ian spent more than two decades in prison for a crime he did not commit.”
Simmers, then of Carnation, and a 14-year-old friend were picked up by police for allegedly shooting off flare guns near Lake Washington a few days after the brutal murder of a 35-year-old Rodney Gochanaur. Despite having no probable cause to link the boys to Gochanaur’s murder, Bothell and King County police officers held them incommunicado from parents and Simmers’ attorney, ignored Simmer’s request to remain silent and berated and cajoled the boys through the night, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle.
Simmers’ mother was refused access to her son. Isolated and exhausted, after nearly 10 hours Simmers finally gave a transparently false confession full of wrong information about the murder.
To give the “confession” the appearance of truthfulness, the officers fed Simmers details of the crime known only to the police and the actual murderer, and only recorded Simmers’ statements after Simmer’s will had been overborne, according to the suit.
The officers used tactics on Simmers, a venerable juvenile, that would have been inappropriate when used against adults, let alone against a child during an overnight interrogation, the suit alleges. The suit further alleges that such patently wrongful tactics were used by two agencies in a joint operation illustrates the faulty and unconstitutional practices, as well as the negligence of, the city of Bothell and King County, whose officers should have known not to treat children in such a manner.
There was no physical evidence linking Simmers to the crime. Based solely on the alleged confession and an incentivized jailhouse “informant” whom he allegedly also confessed to, Simmers spent his life from age 16 to nearly age 40 behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit, the suit alleges.
DNA testing of the murder weapon, definitively clearing him, finally led to his release in 2019, when Simmers was represented by Maureen Devlin, a Seattle defense attorney.
Hikers discovered the body of Gochanaur on March 11, 1995 near a portion of the Burke-Gillman trail near Bothell. Gochanaur had suffered multiple wounds, including a number of stab wounds to his back and a large cut to his face.
A few days after the murder, King County Sheriff ’s Officers arrested Simmers and another juvenile for alleged—and clearly juvenile—crimes like shooting flare guns by Lake Washington, according to the suit. These property crimes were completely unrelated to the Gochanaur murder.
“The Bothell PD officers, the county officers, and ultimately the individual defendants, decided that plaintiff (Simmers) was going to take the fall for the Gochanaur homicide,” according to the suit. “They agreed among themselves to seek plaintiff ’s conviction for this crime, and to violate his constitutional rights along the way.”
Building a life in Kent
Since his release, Simmers has attempted to build a life for himself, working at Amazon fulfillment center in Kent, and lives with his mother nearby. Simmers’ mother stood by her son for the decades he was wrongfully imprisoned and was his biggest, and steadfast advocate.
The suit alleges that as a result of defendants’ misconduct described, Simmers suffered injuries, including but not limited to loss of liberty and emotional distress. As a direct and proximate result of the actions of the city and the county, Simmers constitutional rights were violated and he suffered injuries and damages as set forth
in the complaint. The City of Bothell and King County are therefore liable for the misconduct committed by the individual defendants, according to the suit.
“The City of Bothell has no comment at this time,” said Becky Range, assistant to the city manager, in a Jan. 27 email.
King County officials have not yet responded to a request for comment.
The suit requests the court enter a judgment in the favor of Simmers and against the defendants awarding compensatory damages, attorneys’ fees and costs against each defendant and any other relief the court deems just and appropriate.
A specific judgment amount was not requested in the suit. Simmers has requested a trial by jury.
“The damages will be left for the jury to determine in light of the evidence presented at trial, which we anticipate will be compelling,” said David B. Owens, who is based in Seattle and is representing Simmers along with John Hazinski of Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law.
Owens said the next steps include the process of serving King County, the city of Bothell, and the individual defendants of the lawsuit and to begin the litigation.
The suit was filed against King County, the city of Bothell, Detective Edward J. Hopkins, Sgt. Clement Rusk, Detective Rebecca Miner, Detective John McSwain, Detective Pat Raftus, Detective Ken Baxter, Chief Mark Ericks, Sgt. David Schlaegel and Maj. Jackson Beard, unknown officers of the Bothell Police Department, and unknown sheriff deputies of King County.
Owens said it’s tough to know how long the case will take.
“Particularly given the pandemic, it is hard to say how quickly a case will take to get to trial, but it is usually a year and a half to two years, depending on how things proceed,” Owens said. “We hope to have a jury trial as soon as safely practicable and where we can seek justice for Ian.”