A Spanaway man filed a $1 million tort claim against six Olympia police officers Wednesday, claiming that the officers drew their weapons and placed handcuffs on him while he was at work late in May 2014.
In the claim, Tyrone Johnson, 47, alleges that the incident took place after he was called to work at CenturyLink to handle a service outage on the evening of May 27, 2014.
The claim accuses six Olympia Police Department employees of misconduct: Officers Ryan Donald, George Clark, Jonathan Hazen, Eric Henrichsen and Randy Wilson, and Sgt. Matthew Renschler. Donald is already under investigation in the shooting of Bryson Chaplin and Andre Thompson during a May 21 altercation. The two men were suspected of shoplifting from the west Olympia Safeway.
In his claim, Johnson wrote that while returning his work truck to the CenturyLink garage at 2817 Martin Way in Olympia, he noticed a police car parked outside of the building.
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While inside the office finishing paperwork, he heard someone say, “Freeze. Put your hands in the air.” He turned around to see six Olympia officers with their guns drawn and pointed at him.
Johnson wrote in the claim that he identified himself as a CenturyLink employee, but he was placed in handcuffs anyway.
“The cuffing officer was rough with me and placed the cuffs on pretty tight. … At the time this happened I feared for my life, not knowing what was going on. I was scared to move, with the fear of moving the wrong way could get me shot and killed,” Johnson wrote.
He wrote that he was later released from the handcuffs, and the officers left after Johnson showed them his CentruyLink identification card and his driver’s license. The officers laughed as they walked away, and no one offered him an apology.
University Place attorney Beverly Grant, who represents Johnson, said she believes her client’s treatment by the officers was racially based.
“Here is an African-American man who had every right to be there,” Grant said. “He was dressed in his uniform and driving a company car, and he was still subjected to this. If my client had acted differently, he may not be alive.”
Olympia police Lt. Paul Lower said Johnson was placed in handcuffs briefly in the early hours of May 28, 2014, after Officer Donald drove past the building and noticed an open garage door and a dim light. He believed that burglars were inside and called for backup.
When the other officers arrived, they banged on the side of the building and announced that they were entering. Johnson was detained for a few minutes while officers searched the building. After police found no evidence of a burglary, he was released.
“All of the stuff they did there is rather routine procedure,” Lower said. “Handcuffing somebody we find inside the building until we know everything is safe is usual procedure for us, and for other police departments around the country.”
About a month after the incident, the Olympia Police Department communicated with Sedgwick Claims Management Services on behalf of CenturyLink regarding the incident.
On Thursday, the Olympia Police Department released a series of emails between Connie Cobb, the city’s claims manager, Donald and Renschler.
In an email dated July 2, 2014, Cobb told Donald and Renschler that Johnson hadn’t returned to work since the incident, and that he said he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
She asked Donald and Renschler to tell their side of the story, and both wrote that Johnson didn’t appear to have suffered any injuries or distress during the incident.
“I examined his wrists and confirmed there was no visible injury. We spoke casually while the Officers were searching the building and for the next approximate 5 minutes, during which point he never complained of any injury to me or made any indication that experienced any distress during the incident,” Renschler wrote.
But Grant said that the incident was traumatic for her client, and that he still suffers from PTSD.
“He’s pretty emotional right now,” Grant said. “You can tell that this has really impacted him.”
She said she hopes that the claim will prompt a community discussion, and that Johnson will be awarded some compensation for his treatment.