Crime

Suicidal Lakewood police officer brooded over his testimony in lawsuit, colleagues say

A Lakewood Police car is adorned with flowers as it sits parked in Fircrest, April 29, 2017. It is a memorial to Arron Grant, a Lakewood officer who killed himself April 25.
A Lakewood Police car is adorned with flowers as it sits parked in Fircrest, April 29, 2017. It is a memorial to Arron Grant, a Lakewood officer who killed himself April 25. phaley@thenewstribune.com

Lakewood police officer Arron Grant, who died by suicide April 25, was haunted by his testimony in a lawsuit tied to his prior employment with the city of Seattle and believed he lied under pressure to aid the city’s case, according to his boss and former co-workers.

The News Tribune has learned that Grant, 40, alluded to his longstanding distress in a text message sent before his death.

His colleagues, as well as Lakewood Police Chief Mike Zaro, said Grant often spoke about the Seattle case and his role in it.

Grant’s family declined to comment directly, but sent a message through Zaro indicating Grant had sought and received treatment for his continuing stress. A private memorial service for Grant is scheduled for next week.

“He sought help,” Zaro said. “He was not bashful about talking about it. He was very open with a lot of people around the department, and I don’t know what more somebody would have wanted him to do. He sought treatment.”

Grant shared his worries with Zaro and former Chief Bret Farrar. Both tried to reassure him, Zaro said.

“Neither of us thought that what (Grant) described to us amounted to how he characterized it, which was lying,” Zaro said Monday. “We both thought that was an extreme characterization on his part. We never understood it.”

Neither of us thought that what (Grant) described to us amounted to how he characterized it, which was lying. We both thought that was an extreme characterization on his part. We never understood it.

Lakewood Police Chief Mike Zaro

The reaction to Grant’s death has exposed long-simmering tensions within the department and speculation about whether his continued brooding should have prompted more direct intervention by his bosses.

“Arron came to me and he told me the whole story about how the attorneys had pressured him into testifying,” said Anders Estes, who retired from the department in 2016. Estes also filed a complaint with city leaders in September 2016 that referenced Grant’s situation and criticized other actions by department leaders.

The News Tribune spoke to three other current and former Lakewood officers who asked not be named due to concerns about retaliation from department leaders.

All three described Grant’s struggle with his statements in the Seattle lawsuit and suggested the department gives short shrift to officers who face job-related stress. Zaro says the criticism is untrue.

The suit, Hor v. Seattle, stemmed from a May 2006 incident that left a 16-year-old girl, Channary Hor, paralyzed. Grant, who worked for the Seattle Police Department from 2004 to 2008, was one of the responding officers.

The suit, Hor v. Seattle, stemmed from a May 2006 incident that left a 16-year-old girl, Channary Hor, paralyzed. Grant, who worked for the Seattle Police Department from 2004 to 2008, was one of the responding officers.

The incident began in Seward Park, a 300-acre site bordered by Lake Washington. Another officer, Adam Thorp, noticed a car parked at the site after hours, approached on foot and knocked on the window.

The driver, Omar Tammam, sped away, moving past Grant, who was parked nearby. Tammam reached speeds as high as 86 miles per hour before he crashed into a rock wall on a neighboring street. He ran from the car, leaving Hor behind, badly injured.

Grant found her in the car moments later. Her injuries left her quadriplegic. Hor later sued the city for damages, contending the officers chasing Tammam violated department policy regarding high-speed pursuits.

The city prevailed in June 2013. A jury found that the officers bore no share of the blame for Hor’s injuries. A public statement from City Attorney Pete Holmes noted that Hor was injured “through no fault of her own,” but underlined the point that officers didn’t violate pursuit policies.

Grant was deposed in the case in November 2012, four years after he had joined the Lakewood force. Part of his testimony hinged on the moment he turned on his car’s emergency lights during the short hunt for the driver.

Grant was deposed in the case in November 2012, four years after he had joined the Lakewood force. Part of his testimony hinged on the moment he turned on his emergency lights during the short hunt for the driver.

The state Court of Appeals zoomed in on the argument in a subsequent 2015 ruling that upheld the jury verdict:

“Hor testified that the officers pursued Tammam’s car with their lights and sirens turned on. They denied doing so,” the ruling states.

Speaking to colleagues later, Grant said his testimony was untruthful.

“He told me the essential story,” said Estes, the former Lakewood officer who filed a complaint with the city. “The attorneys tried to get out of him where he initiated the pursuit. He said he couldn’t remember. The attorneys told him, you need to say it started here, this is where you need to say you turned your lights on.

“He testified to the facts they gave him. He didn’t say, ‘I don’t remember,’ like he should have.”

The News Tribune sought comment from the Seattle City Attorney’s office regarding Grant’s testimony and his description of it. Spokeswoman Kimberly Mills provided a lengthy statement, quoted in part below:

“The City Attorney’s Office and the attorneys who tried the Hor v. City litigation for the City are very saddened by Officer Grant’s death. Our thoughts are with his family. Responding to the allegations regarding Officer Grant’s testimony in the Hor case, both the City Attorney and the attorneys who tried the case reject the assertion that Officer Grant was pressured to tell a favorable story for the City. His testimony at trial was consistent with the report he wrote on the day of the incident and the testimony of his fellow officer, Adam Thorp, as well as the physical facts of the case and other evidence.

“Officer Grant was forthright and straightforward in his testimony, both in deposition and at trial. Both he and Officer Thorp were subjected to rigorous cross examination by very experienced and highly skilled plaintiff’s counsel. The jury rejected the claim that the officers were negligent in their actions associated with this unfortunate accident that injured Ms. Hor. The case was reviewed on appeal by the Court of Appeals and the verdict in favor of the city was affirmed. The Supreme Court rejected a request for review.

“It is tragic that Officer Arron Grant, who served as a distinguished police officer for both the cities of Seattle and Lakewood, has taken his own life. It is clear that he was grappling with many issues before he died. The attorneys who represented the City did not pressure or encourage Officer Grant to perjure himself at any time.”

Other current and former officers gave similar accounts of what they heard from Grant about the case: That he had lied and was troubled by it.

The story was common knowledge in the department and led to internal dissent. Some, including Estes, suggested an internal investigation was warranted. Farrar and Zaro decided against it.

The story was common knowledge in the department and led to internal dissent. Some, including Estes, suggested that an internal investigation was warranted. Farrar and Zaro decided against it.

“(Grant’s) focus was on this internalizing and this devaluing of himself because of whatever went on,” Zaro said. “And no matter how much value we tried to tell him he had and how this attitude toward himself didn’t make sense, it just never seemed to register.”

Grant’s internal struggle didn’t affect his work, according to Zaro. His job performance didn’t suffer. He was seeking treatment on his own: a positive sign. To punish him for that made no sense, Zaro said.

Critics within the department, questioning Zaro’s attitude toward work-related stress, noted an initial statement about Grant’s death on the police department’s Facebook page that said he “lost his fight with mental illness.”

Zaro said the statement was composed in consultation with Grant’s family and that the words were intended as a general phrase rather than a specific diagnosis. He said that while Grant had sought treatment, department leaders don’t yet know if he was diagnosed with a specific disorder.

“Without knowing all that, it wouldn’t be accurate or fair to Arron and his family to put out anything more,” Zaro said. “I wouldn’t detail his history in a Facebook post.

“A week removed from somebody committing suicide, there’s a lot of people, myself included, wondering what we could have done for him, but I don’t have that answer. I don’t know.”

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