The city of Cortez has agreed to pay $200,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a family who sued the city and several police officers over the arrest of Shane French at his home in 2014.
The cash settlement was part of a civil lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court by French and family members Patti and Glenn French.
It was finalized July 26, and as part of the agreement, the lawsuit was dismissed, said French’s attorney, David Lane, of the law firm Kilmer, Lane & Newman LLP.
“Hopefully, the citizens of Cortez will demand better policing, because the taxpayers had to pay out of their own pockets,” he said.
All parties must pay their own attorney fees.
The city of Cortez did not admit to wrongdoing as part of the settlement.
The lawsuit initially was filed Feb. 5, 2016, against the city of Cortez and police officers Casey Eubanks, Jennifer Lodge (also known as Jennifer Goodall), Boyd Neagle, Ryan Carter, David Allmon and Police Chief Roy Lane. Charges against Lane and Carter were later dismissed.
The original complaint alleges Cortez police officers were called to the French family’s home for assistance for a mental health hold for French – a qualified individual with a disability – but then entered illegally without consent.
The complaint further alleges that the officers pushed Glenn and Patti French, “tackled Shane French to the ground and handcuffed him” and then “repeatedly tased Shane French while he was in handcuffs.”
French was then charged with four counts of assaulting a peace officer and three counts of resisting arrest. The alleged assault was connected to a nick on the left side of officer Eubanks’ stomach, according to court testimony.
French was in custody for about 10 months before a jury cleared him of all charges.
A year after French was cleared, his family filed a lawsuit seeking compensatory damages for emotional distress, humiliation, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of companionship with family members after he was jailed for 10 months and found not guilty, punitive damages, economic losses, attorneys’ fees and any other relief as allowed by law.
“The Defendants misperceived the effects of Shane French’s disability as criminal activity,” the 2016 complaint states.
In an interview with The Journal, Shane French’s father, Glenn French, said the arrest, jailing and trial has been traumatic for his son, who has been diagnosed with mental illness, including bipolar affective disorder.
“Now he is scared to death of the police, more paranoid and does not want to go out in public,” he said. “They jumped on a mentally challenged person who was not doing anything and tased him. The officers broke in the door, and they never offered to fix (the) door frame and damage to the wall.”
Glenn French said he would like to see more training nationwide for police and court staff on recognizing mental illness.
He said more education is needed about how to approach mentally challenged citizens safely and respectfully.
“There was no sense in that happening to him that night,” French said. “We’re not anti-law or anything like that. There are good officers out there, and we are friends with them. But the ones that abuse their power and get out of control should not have badges.”
He suggested that police and other law enforcement officers be made more aware of individuals in the community with mental illness so they are more informed prior to an arrest or encounter.
In an email to The Journal, Lt. Andy Brock, interim police chief for the Cortez Police Department, said: “The Police Department was disappointed in the settlement as we know we did not violate any laws but we are understanding of the civil system.”
He said the city is required to make decisions that are in the best interest of the city.
“Taking a chance of possibly losing the suit would not have been in the best interest of the city,” he said. “This suit could have continued for years to come, all the while the cost would have been adding up. It was time to put an end to this case.”
The case and consequencesBrock said no policies were changed as a result of the settlement and court case. No officers were fired, and there were no disciplinary actions.
“No officers or staff were at fault,” he said.
However, the Cortez Police Department on Feb. 18, 2014, released an internal affairs investigation report that stated Eubanks was given a reprimand and ordered to receive mandatory counseling after he displayed “uncontrolled anger” the night of French’s arrest. According to the one-page report, Eubanks “purposely” destroyed city property by delivering “several knee strikes” to a patrol car after the arrest.
Brock, Eubanks and Chief Roy Lane signed the internal affairs report.
And Neagle admitted under oath during the 2014 trial that he violated the department’s stun gun policy during the arrest. He disclosed that he stunned French seven times, including five times within 2½ minutes while French was handcuffed.
During the trial, defenders argued French was not guilty because he had the right to protect himself against illegal intrusion under Colorado’s Make My Day law.
As far as lessons learned, Brock said officers could have been more detailed in their reports and worked closer with the District Attorney’s Office on the prosecution’s case.
Brock said if there are mistakes or issues with the department, the department would “take action and make the appropriate adjustments.” He added that all officers currently wear body cameras with video and audio.
What’s next for French?French was arrested in March and now faces charges for felony menacing and first-degree assault against a state probation officer, according to court records.
He is currently in the Montezuma County Detention Center on a $50,000 cash surety bond, said Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin. His next court date is Dec. 18 at 2:30 p.m. for a motions hearing and pretrial readiness conference. A trial date is scheduled for Jan. 22-23.
According to a Cortez police report and statements from Brock, state parole officer Ryan Jenkins attempted to deliver paperwork to French at his home on North Texas Street.
French “became upset,” aggressive and used vulgar language, the report states. Armed with a knotted sock that contained a rock at its end, French “slammed the weapon into his hand” and told Jenkins to leave.
As French approached him, Jenkins said he removed his stun gun and ordered him to stop. When French continued toward him, Jenkins deployed his stun gun.
French fell, then stood up, removed the taser probes and picked up the weapon. Jenkins stunned him again, and French stayed down, according to the report.
Four Cortez police officers then arrived, responding to Jenkins’ call for an “officer needing assistance,” in which he stated that French was lying on the ground.
In 2017, French was convicted on an escape charge, incarcerated and paroled after assaulting two deputies, according to the Colorado Department of Corrections.
Where are they now?Most of the officers named in the civil suit are still in law enforcement. Eubanks is a detention deputy with the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office.
Allmon is a patrol sergeant with the Cortez Police Department.Neagle is a detective investigator with the Pagosa Springs Police Department. He had applied for the position of Mancos marshal, which was awarded to former deputy Justen Goodall.Jennifer (Lodge) Goodall no longer is a Cortez police officer. She is the wife of Mancos Marshal Justen Goodall. The assistant district attorney in the trial, Matt Margeson, is now running for the office of district attorney in the 22nd Judicial District, to replace then-DA William Furse.jmimiaga @ the-journal.com