In December, three corrections officers for the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office were found not guilty of criminally negligent homicide in the 2017 death of an inmate. Last week, two of those officers filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking $10 million in damages from parties involved in their prosecution.
Citing violations of their civil rights, Cpl. Anthony "Tony" Hansen and deputy Michael "Mike" Durkan filed a complaint July 23, in the U.S. District Court in Portland, asking for a jury trial with a long list of defendants, including prosecutors, an investigator and an expert witness.
The original case was the result of the death of James Eugene Wippel, 59, of Portland, who was taken into custody on drug charges in the early morning hours of April 24, 2017, and died two days later from a perforated ulcer.
To ensure an unbiased process, Jefferson County Sheriff Jim Adkins called for an investigation by the Central Oregon Major Incident Team. When the lead investigator, Johnny Dickson, who works for the Redmond Police Department, completed his investigation, Jefferson County District Attorney Steve Leriche asked for a review of the case by the Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote.
Foote took the case to a Jefferson County grand jury, which returned a charge of criminally negligent homicide for Hansen, Durkan and deputy Cory Skidgel, who did not participate in the lawsuit. The three were arraigned April 19, 2018, and pleaded not guilty. After a seven-day trial, Judge Daina Vitolins found the three not guilty Dec. 4, 2018, but admonished them for not seeking medical care more promptly for Wippel.
In their complaint, Hansen and Durkan allege that Foote, John Wentworth — a Clackamas County deputy district attorney, and Leriche conspired to deprive them of their civil rights and their rights to due process, and engaged in malicious prosecution, false arrest, and violation of the U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection Clause.
The lawsuit alleges that when Foote accepted the case and assigned it to Wentworth, neither had taken an oath of office to try a case outside of Clackamas County, so neither had the legal authority to impanel a grand jury, present evidence or bring an indictment against the officers.
The investigator, Dickson, and the Redmond Police Department, which employs Dickson, and Dr. Richard Bochner, who testified for the prosecution, and his employer, Cascade Gastroenteroloy, are also named as defendants in the complaint.
Dickson, the complaint states, "took an unusual position of placing his opinons regarding proper medical and correctional care into his policy report ..."
The complaint alleges that although he received only limited information on the case, Bochner, came to the conclusion that, "had any of the three defendants in the case called an ambulance prior to 8 a.m. — the conclusion of their shift — Mr. Wippel would have survived."
In Hansen's and Durkan's claims for relief for malicious prosecution, false arrest, and denial of due process, among other claims, the complaint notes, "As a direct and proximate result of the unlawful detention and false arrest, plaintiffs sustained actual damages including attorney fees and other expenses incurred due to the criminal charges; loss of their liberty; interference with their relationships with family and friends; mental and emotional suffering; humiliation; shame; embarrassment; worry; fear; anguish; shock; nervousness; and anxiety."
Hansen and Durkan are represented by the Thenell Law Group, of Portland.
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