Skip to comments.St. Paul to pay record-tying $400K in police violence case
Posted on 11/15/2012 8:35:33 PM PST by Altariel
St. Paul police kicked a man in the face as he lay on the ground and tried to explain that his mother couldn't quickly get to the ground because she'd recently had surgery, a lawsuit says. Police then shot a "flash-bang" grenade directly at the woman, setting her afire and seriously burning her legs, according to the lawsuit.
The St. Paul City Council is slated to approve a $400,000 settlement in the lawsuit Wednesday, Nov. 7, equaling the largest payout in a St. Paul police lawsuit, according to the city attorney's office.
Six other police misconduct cases have led to nearly a half-million dollars in payouts this year, according to the St. Paul city attorney's office. The city also recently settled for $385,000 a data privacy lawsuit involving St. Paul officers.
An investigation continues into a separate case in August in which a St. Paul police officer was seen on video kicking a suspect who was on the ground.
"This is extremely, extremely sad to hear about officers we trust to protect and serve," Tyrone Terrill, chairman of the African-American Leadership Council, said Wednesday of the lawsuit about to be settled. "We really need to have a serious talk with Chief (Thomas) Smith and his leadership."
Smith said later in the day that he'd talked with Terrill. Terrill said they would be meeting.
"I always want to make sure that we're doing the right thing," Smith said. "I listen to the concerns of the community all the time. ... I take anything that happens in the community very seriously."
In settling the current lawsuit, the city "does not admit any wrongdoing, improper action or liability," according to the settlement agreement.
St. Paul City Attorney Sara Grewing said Tuesday that the city looked at a case with similar circumstances in Minneapolis -- after an officer threw a "flash-bang" grenade into an apartment where police suspected crack cocaine was being sold, it went off under a woman's legs and caused third-degree burns. Minneapolis settled the woman's lawsuit for $1 million last year.
In the St. Paul case that's being settled, Grewing said, "the plaintiff had serious and permanent injuries."
The case about to be settled in St. Paul was filed in November 2011 in U.S. District Court by Larelle Steward, 28, and his mother, Daniela Hobbs, 48. They alleged civil rights violations, assault, battery and negligence stemming from the St. Paul police execution of a search warrant Oct. 28, 2010.
Officer Matthew Yunker had received information from a confidential informant that another man, then 58, was selling crack cocaine from an apartment in the 600 block of North Snelling Avenue, according to his application for a search warrant, which a judge granted. Yunker was looking for cocaine and other items, he wrote.
The lawsuit included the following claims about what happened when police executed the warrant:
Steward and Hobbs lived in the apartment, above a business, and saw police arrive via a security camera the business owner had installed. They were the only ones home. Steward opened the door when they knocked. Police yelled for them to "get on the ground."
Police "zip-tied" Steward's wrists behind his back. Hobbs is 5 feet 3 inches tall, has diabetes and back problems and, at the time of the police encounter, "was visibly disabled due to a recent neck surgery," the complaint said.
Steward saw his mother "struggling to get into the prone position; however, due to her recent surgery and visible injury, Hobbs was physically unable to move as quickly as Steward," the complaint said.
Steward was on the ground, explaining Hobbs' "inability to move quickly," when police "repeatedly kicked Steward in the back of his head causing his face to smash into the premises' floor thereby breaking his nose and causing cuts on his face," the complaint said. Police covered his head with a pillowcase.
Police shot a "flash-bang" grenade at Hobbs, who was "prone/face down" at that point, the complaint said. It exploded, setting Hobbs on fire and causing third-degree burns. Hobbs was burned on her right leg from ankle to mid-thigh, her left inner thigh, and the bottoms of her feet.
A paramedic treated Hobbs and inquired about other injured people. Police "falsely informed the medic that no other medical treatment was needed," the complaint said.
Police instructed Steward to clean up his face, dropped him off at Regions Hospital's emergency room and confiscated the pillowcase they'd used to cover his bloodied face.
Officers found no cocaine in their search of the apartment. They found a handgun and stun gun in a bedroom and shotguns in closets, according to the warrant's inventory receipt. Police also found a bag of marijuana (2.8 grams; 0.09 ounce) and a digital scale, the receipt said.
Neither Steward, Hobbs nor the man who was the subject of the search warrant was charged in the case.
Steward and Hobbs sued the city of St. Paul, Yunker and officers "John Doe," whose names weren't known. Both sides later agreed to dismiss Yunker and name only the city of St. Paul as a defendant.
Yunker, a St. Paul officer since 2000, was assigned to the Western District FORCE unit at the time he obtained the warrant and is now a canine officer. A police spokesman didn't have information Tuesday about whether there was an internal affairs investigation involving the search warrant case.
Yunker has one instance of discipline on his record -- a written reprimand for violating department policy in August 2010. He also has seven commendations, mostly thank-you letters, in his record.
Steward's criminal history shows a warrant for his arrest in a 2008 marijuana-possession case he was convicted in. He was convicted of a petty misdemeanor in 2008 for possessing marijuana and motor vehicle theft in 2003, court records show. Hobbs' record shows only traffic violations.
Last year, St. Paul paid $350,000 in five police misconduct cases, according to the city attorney's office.
Grewing said her office has "ongoing discussions with the police department about managing the city's risk" and works with the department on training.
The other $400,000 settlement in a St. Paul police case came in 2005; the city agreed to pay the family of Charles Craighead, killed by an officer in 2001. Craighead was struggling with a carjacker and had just wrestled a gun from him when the officer mistook him for the suspect and shot him.
David Hanners and Frederick Melo contributed to this report.
Mara H. Gottfried can be reached at 651-228-5262.
Follow her at twitter.com/MaraGottfried or twitter.com/ppUsualSuspects.
End the War on Drugs.
You just can’t trust police anymore. Especially the way they are trained today. Kill you first, cover up for each other and keep their job later. Note that none of these officers were fired. The city just paid out. And one of the guys who got a payout was dead, so you know he’s enjoying it.
From the way the story is told here, it seems these two were already under control before they shot the grenade or whatever it is called. Pretty stupid.
A peace officer can control two subjects in such conditions without grenades.
An LEO cares not if he violates the rights of a suspect or endangers the lives of law-abiding private citizens, so long as they “respect his authoriteh”.
Sometimes they’re suspended with pay.
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