A lawsuit alleging the wrongful death of a Casper man shot and killed by police may largely be halted until next year, lawyers for the various parties wrote in a Monday federal court filing.
On Tuesday, Magistrate Kelly Rankin paused proceedings, according to online court records. A single-sentence explanation notes that Officer Jonathan Schlager’s overseas military deployment necessitated the decision.
Schlager, along with Cody Meyers, is a Casper police officer named as defendant in the suit. The city government is also named as a defendant, as are 10 unidentified police officers and 10 unidentified Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy employees.
Linda Lennen, Oneyear’s mother, filed the lawsuit on Feb. 25, a year to the day from when the officers shot at Douglas Oneyear, as he walked toward them on 15th Street in east Casper. Oneyear was carrying a sword, and officers said they fired at him when he ignored commands to stop moving toward them. Investigators found Schlager hit Oneyear twice in the spine, killing him. Meyers’ gunshots did not strike Oneyear.
A judge in June denied a city request for dismissal of the lawsuit, ruling only on the defendants’ argument that Lennen did not provide a set of allegations that the court is empowered to remedy. In making his ruling, the judge wrote that Lennen’s lawyer, Todd Hambrick, “has alleged, and supported with factual underpinnings, that the officers here used unconstitutional excessive force in shooting Mr. Oneyear and they did so pursuant to their training.”
In filings, Hambrick characterizes the sword as a toy. He states that Oneyear was “walking in the street around the front fender of (Schlager’s) car in a nonthreatening manner with his arms at his sides.” The lawyer says police could have used less lethal force to defuse the confrontation.
Police officials and the agency’s lawyers have disputed Hambrick’s characterizations. In April 2018, Chief Keith McPheeters showed media images of the sword that appeared to have a sharpened edge. In a court filing earlier this year, the agency said the officers’ actions were “objectively reasonable.” The Natrona County District Attorney’s Office concluded Oneyear confronted officers with the intention of ending his life.
On Monday, lawyers representing the city and police department, along with Hambrick and the assistant attorney general representing the two officers, filed a plan suggesting how to handle the case.
In the joint filing, the lawyers wrote they expect a trial will take eight days and state prospects for settlement appear “fair.” The lawyers also write, however, that Schlager’s deployment to Afghanistan with the Army National Guard will leave him unable to actively participate in the lawsuit.
The deployment is expected to conclude between March and May of 2020, the layers wrote. They state it “may be appropriate to stay most of the case (except the exchange of initial written discovery) until Officer Schlager returns and can assist counsel with his defense.”
The lawyers declined to provide proposed deadlines, noting answers would vary based on the outcome of a ruling regarding Schlager’s deployment.
In Rankin’s mid-Tuesday morning ruling staying proceedings, the magistrate judge wrote she would issue another order providing more details. That order had not been filed by late Tuesday afternoon.