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Excessive force suit prompts judgment against Natrona County Sheriff's deputy

Excessive force suit prompts judgment against Natrona County Sheriff's deputy

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A local woman will receive $35,000 after alleging a Natrona County sheriff's deputy slammed her body face first onto a concrete floor, according to a recently released federal judgment.

Vicki Cook was arrested May 9, 2009, by Deputy Harold E. Cline for driving under the influence. According to Cook, the handcuff on her right wrist was loose and slipped off as Cline placed her in his patrol pickup.

“[The] Plaintiff attempted to politely and cooperatively inform the Defendant that the handcuffs had not worked properly, to which she received no reply from the Defendant,” the complaint states.

As Cline pulled into the Natrona County Detention Center, Cook said she noticed several other deputies coming out to receive them.

Cook said she assured Cline that she wasn’t going to try something.

Moments later, Cline left the vehicle, walked around to the back passenger door and grabbed Cook by her neck and shoulder, she said. He threw her from the pickup to the garage floor, and Cook’s face smashed into the concrete.

“I was scared to death,” Cook told the Star-Tribune. “I did not understand why I was being hurt like I was. I was crying and screaming and begging. I did not understand it at all.”

The lawsuit states Cook was then handcuffed behind her back and that her ankles were restrained with either cuffs or leg irons.    

“…[A]fter which Cline and another officer carried Cook into the detention center by the restraints like a suitcase,” the suit claims.

Cook told the Star-Tribune there is a video that captured the entire incident. Cook’s attorney, John H. Robinson of Jamieson & Robinson LLC, confirmed the existence of the video but declined the Star-Tribune’s request to share it.

“It’s shocking how close the video tracks with Vicki’s account of what had occurred,” Robinson said.

Cook said the attack left her with black eyes and a large gash on her nose and chin. She was forced to have surgery on her right elbow. She also lost an heirloom diamond necklace that was never returned to her.

Robinson said the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation was assigned to investigate the case. The Natrona County District Attorney’s Office declined to press criminal charges against Cline, Robinson added.

Neither Natrona County District Attorney Michael Blonigen nor a representative from the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation was available for comment Friday afternoon.

Cline remains a deputy at the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office, according to Sheriff Gus Holbrook. Holbrook, who was not the sheriff at the time of the incident, declined to comment on whether any disciplinary action was taken against Cline, citing personnel issues.

Four years would pass between Cook's arrest and her lawsuit, which was filed this February. She said other Natrona County Sheriff’s deputies encouraged her to come forward.

“They told me, ‘Do something about this,’” she said.

Robinson said his team opted to file suit against Cline individually because it appeared the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office had responded appropriately.

“Our understanding from talking to people in the community was that officer Cline had been disciplined by the Sheriff’s Office,” Robinson said.

In a response filed by the defense, Cline maintained his actions were “within the course and scope of their duties and all actions, inactions, or omissions were privileged and authorized by law and reasonable in light of their training and the totality of circumstances.”

A message left Friday afternoon for Cline was not returned.

Cline, through his attorney Misha E. Westby of the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office, made a formal offer of judgment for $35,000 in October. Cook and her attorneys accepted the offer, and the court documents became publicly available on Wednesday.

Westby told the Star-Tribune she could not comment on the result of the case. When asked what entity would foot the bill, Westby said she would be able to provide that information by Monday.

Robinson said his client is very pleased with the result and feels vindicated.

Reach crime reporter Megan Cassidy at 307-266-0534 or Follow her on Twitter @meganrcassidy.


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