Casper student settles lawsuit over Laramie Taser incident

2012-01-06T08:00:00Z 2012-01-06T15:25:11Z Casper student settles lawsuit over Laramie Taser incidentBy JOSHUA WOLFSON Star-Tribune staff writer Casper Star-Tribune Online

A Casper man who was seriously injured in a fall after being shot with a Taser has settled his lawsuit against the city of Laramie and three police officers.

Patrick Lewallen broke bones in his face, and several teeth, when his head struck a curb during the April 2010 incident. Lewallen fell after officer Christopher Cleven fired a Taser at him from behind.

The State Self Insurance Program paid Lewallen $49,000 to settle the claims against Cleven, Lewallen’s attorney, John Robinson, said Thursday. Terms of the settlement involving the city of Laramie and the other officers were not disclosed.

Lewallen and the police gave differing accounts of what happened before Cleven fired his Taser. According to the lawsuit, Lewallen didn’t know he was being pursued by the officer and received no warning he could be shocked.

Cleven’s attorney maintains the University of Wyoming student ran from the officer, despite orders to stop or be Tasered.

Lewallen hoped the case would prompt Wyoming police agencies to adjust their policies and training concerning Tasers, Robinson said.

“Mr. Lewallen and his attorney were all very pleased with the settlement,” Robinson said.

Cleven did not admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement, according to his attorney, Senior Assistant Attorney General Theodore Racines.

“Indeed, Officer Cleven acted in accordance with his training and within policy in deploying a Taser on Lewallen,” Racines wrote in a statement.

Patrick Murphy, the attorney who represented the city of Laramie, Police Chief Dale Stalder and Lt. Jonlee Anderle, did not respond to a message left Thursday seeking comment.

The owner of the Library bar in Laramie reported Lewallen was already intoxicated when he arrived on April 29, 2010, and drank six glasses of beer, according to court documents. Tests later showed Lewallen had a blood alcohol concentration of .232 — nearly three times the legal limit for driving in Wyoming.

Police received a report that Lewallen refused to leave the bar, but he was gone by the time Cleven arrived on scene. Lewallen claimed he passed Cleven’s patrol car and had begun crossing Grand Avenue — a busy street next to the university — without realizing he was being pursued by the officer.

Before he reached the other side of the street, Cleven shot Lewallen from behind with the Taser. The student’s body went rigid, and he pitched forward, striking the curb with his face.

The lawsuit accused Cleven of using unnecessary and excessive force. It also accused Stalder and Anderle of negligently training Cleven, leading to the incident.

“Lewallen was committing no crime, was nonviolent and posed no threat to anyone,” his lawsuit states. “He was not fleeing and was not evading arrest — in fact, if he had to be arrested for anything, Cleven could have accomplished that after Lewallen had crossed the street to safety.”

According to Racines’ account, Lewallen fled after Cleven arrived and told him they needed to talk. The student ran across the street despite orders to stop.

“Law enforcement officers must respond to calls for service and often must deal with people who act unpredictably,” Racines wrote in the statement. “Although the use of technology in law enforcement, such as Tasers, has significantly reduced the incidence of injury to both suspects and officers, encounters with non-cooperative individuals are not risk free.”

Lewallen suffered permanent injuries as a result of the fall, according to his lawsuit.

Contact Joshua Wolfson at 307-266-0582 or at josh.wolfson@trib.com. Visit trib.com/news/opinion/blogs/wolfjammies to read his blog. Follow him on Twitter @joshwolfson.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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