A federal jury has awarded a Powell, Wyo., woman just over $30,000 after finding that police unsafely deployed a “flash bang” device and used her as a human shield during a drug raid at her home two years ago.
The finding and the award were announced Mar. 4 in a lawsuit filed nearly a year ago by Tricia Wachsmuth.
Police said they searched the home in February 2009 based on a tip that a marijuana-growing operation and several guns were present, and that they later found two marijuana plants and weapons. Wachsmuth and her husband, Bret, reached plea agreements on misdemeanor drug counts and were fined and put on probation.
But Wachsmuth sued the city of Powell and the police, alleging that officers wrongly rammed their way into her house during the raid.
Jurors rejected that claim, the Powell Tribune reported, but found that police officers violated her civil rights by ordering her to go downstairs to the home’s basement as a shield.
Wachsmuth had sought $500,000 in pain and mental anguish and $90,000 for medical costs. She alleged the “flash bang” device, which creates a bright flash of light and a loud noise, ignited a mattress, bedding and carpet.
But jurors awarded her $1 for pain and anguish and $30,000 for medical expenses. It wasn’t immediately clear who was hurt or what injuries required medical treatment.
In their finding, jurors said the police knocked, announced their presence and waited a reasonable time before entering. But they said Sgt. Mike Chretien used her as a human shield, and that another officer, Sgt. Roy Eckerdt, also violated her civil rights for not stopping Chretien.
They also found that Sgt. Alan Kent and Officer Matt McCaslin failed to ensure the device would not risk injury.
Officers denied using Wachsmuth as a shield, saying she led them willingly. They also defended the use of the device, citing the tip that loaded weapons were in the house.
The jury cleared the city, Police Chief Tim Feathers and seven other officers who were named in the lawsuit for their parts in the raid.
Information from: Powell Tribune
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