A southeastern Michigan county agreed to pay $750,000 to settle a lawsuit over the death of a man who drowned in a swamp during his arrest, according to records unsealed by a federal judge.
Details of the settlement, which had been kept confidential, were unsealed this week after The Associated Press filed a Freedom of Information Act request with Livingston County.
Charles Keiser, 47, was pursued on foot by officers after driving a bulldozer on U.S. 23 and blocking traffic. He drowned while face-down in a swampy area in Hartland Township, 40 miles west of Detroit, on Thanksgiving Day 2004.
Keiser’s family accused state police and county deputies of excessive force. The county denied the allegations but agreed to settle its part of the lawsuit before a trial.
“It was a business decision,” county attorney Anne McLaughlin said Wednesday. “We were faced with the possibility of an adverse verdict. They decided the better course of action was the certain course of action.”
About 40 percent of the $750,000 was earmarked for lawyers. Nine relatives got a share of $357,013, and Keiser’s estate was granted $100,000 for “pain and suffering” prior to the death, according to a deal approved in December by U.S. District Judge Stephen Murphy.
The county, with the consent of lawyers for Keiser’s daughter, Amanda Landis, asked the judge to unseal the agreement in order to comply with AP’s public records request.
McLaughlin said insurance covered a substantial amount of the settlement. State police did not settle, and a jury last month ruled in favor of Trooper Greg Galarneau.
“There’s always a tendency to second-guess when something like that occurs,” McLaughlin said. “But we have no way of knowing if the result would have been the same.”
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