Insurance to Cover Settlement Between Okla. Town, Mentally Ill Man’s Estate

June 20, 2008

Officials in a Tulsa, Okla., suburb and the estate of a mentally ill man have settled a federal lawsuit over his August 2002 fatal shooting by police, officials said.

Insurance coverage for the city of Owasso will cover the $300,000 settlement in the case of Todd Thomas Hastings, City Attorney Julie Lombardi said.

Plaintiffs attorney Guy Fortney said the case dealt with important issues concerning how police treat mentally ill people.

Hastings encountered officers Shane Davis and Michael Barnes when they responded to a call Aug. 23, 2002, about a man who was threatening suicide just outside the Owasso city limits.

Barnes and Davis shot the 32-year-old when he didn’t comply with their demands that he drop a samurai sword that had a 20-inch blade and a 21-inch handle.

The Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office found in September 2002 that the officers were justified in using deadly force against Hastings. The Owasso Police Department’s review board also found that the officers’ actions were within department policy.

About a year later, Hastings’ estate filed the lawsuit in Tulsa against the city of Owasso and the two officers, alleging in part that the officers violated Hastings’ right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. It was scheduled to go to trial this week.

The officers filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing they were entitled to immunity from being sued and that the shooting was in self-defense and objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

When U.S. Chief District Judge Claire Eagan denied the motion, the officers went to the matter to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld Eagan’s decision in October.

A three-judge panel wrote that previous cases involving similar confrontations have established that an officer acts unreasonably when he or she aggressively confronts an armed and suicidal or emotionally disturbed individual without gaining additional information.

According to the court, instead of trying to talk to Todd and calm him, the officers cornered him in his bedroom, issued loud and forceful commands at him and pepper-sprayed him, which precipitated the need to use deadly force.

Fortney and Lombardi both said Owasso police officers now undergo extensive training on how to deal with mentally ill people.

Information from: Tulsa World,

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