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$1.5 million claim made against Snohomish County

Deputy broke woman’s finger in scuffle outside her home,
but price tag is because aid was called off by an intervening sergeant for hours; four deputies disciplined over June incident

EVERETT — Some things went wrong when Sheriff’s Office
deputies went to the house near Mariner High School on June 16.
One of the results is a woman filed a $1.5 million claim against Snohomish County after she had her finger broken by a deputy who was grabbing onto it while she was attempting to shut her gate.
Another result is that her husband plans to file an additional claim against the county.
A third result is that four deputies were disciplined in the matter. The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office conducted a personnel investigation* and wrote out its findings* on Thursday,
Aug. 24, writing in an outline that of the 11 allegations lodged against five deputies, including against a sergeant, the sheriff’s office found five of the findings on four people as sustained, Lt. Keith Rogers wrote in a summary letter. A sustained finding essentially means there is valid evidence to a complaint about unprofessional behavior or misconduct.
The names of the four deputies were not identified in the report.
The sheriff’s office also exonerated the husband of any criminal charges for the incident.
The deputies had driven to Christine Harper’s home to speak with her husband Willie Russell. Russell had irritated a bus driver at Mariner who, according to all written accounts, got out of his bus and verbally confronted Russell.
Russell drove off, but he was now being treated as a suspect for disorderly conduct. Russell had arrived home when deputies arrived.
Security video from a neighbor’s porch shows that deputies walked
up to the property. A report says Russell told them to leave. As deputies began walking back to their vehicles, Harper began to close a large gate on wheels. The video shows that a deputy turned around, came back to the gate and there
was a scuffle. A second deputy yanked on the gate.
Harper said the first deputy seemed to back off as if out of shock when it was clear Harper’s hand was hurt. Deputies did reopen the gate, and then grabbed Harper. A deputy led Harper away, walking her back-
wards toward his unmarked police SUV, but not in cuffs.
In 911 records, requests for medical aid were overridden.
Russell called 911, but the call logs show that the supervising sergeant intervened and cancelled Russell’s requests for medical aid at least three times. The last two cancellations were three
hours after the gate incident.
911 logs show Russell was angry aid wasn’t coming.
Fire District 1 spokeswoman Leslie Hynes deferred comment to interim fire chief Brad Reading. Reading did not leave a message with the Tribune to discuss the incident.
Harper had a fractured phalanx on a finger on her right hand, according to a doctor’s diagnosis from the emergency room at Providence Regional Medical Center shared with the Tribune.
Harper filed her claim Wednesday, Aug. 23 to the the Snohomish County risk management office.
The claim demands that the county cover about $2,000 in medical expenses, and for the sheriff’s office to return Russell’s
dash cam video. The family alleges that a deputy ripped the dash cam out of Russell’s pickup truck while at their home.
The claim’s $1.5 million sum is because the family feels harassed, Russell said in an interview. A key point is that aid was cancelled, as if the supervising sergeant did not acknowledge any injury happened.
“If (the sheriff’s office) would have just came and
said ‘we’re sorry, we didn’t mean to do that’,” the claim wouldn’t have been filed, Russell said.
At the end of their visit, the deputies were summoned out of the area oddly. Two witnesses wrote in police statements that they saw another deputy drive up to the scene and
signaled with his finger in a circular motion — usually meaning to wrap it up — which prompted all of the deputies to begin leaving.
On Saturday, Aug. 26 after seeing Rogers’ report, Russell said he still plans to file his own claim.
Russell is well-known to law enforcement for loudly and scathingly speaking out against the police and the judicial system at public forums such as the Everett City Council. He’s also cast vitriol toward the media.
Many documents the Tribune quoted for this story were shared by Russell
through mass emails he sent to newspaper editors, TV stations, as well as police and county officials.

Mixed reports at Mariner
The stories conflict on Russell’s incident with the bus driver.
The road was blocked by buses moving at the school for early dismissal, and by accounts from within the school district, Russell began honking. 
The bus driver got out of his bus and came to Russell’s driver’s side window and had a verbal confrontation, from an outline described by the school district transportation director. Russell says the bus driver spat on him and had reached into his vehicle to grab his arm. Dash cam video would show this assault, if Russell had it.
Russell says he only started honking when the bus driver came toward him.
The school traffic flagger told the bus driver to get back in the bus, a separate statement reads.
Mariner’s school resource officer, Deputy Robert Zoellin, though, came onto the scene advised only that he’d need backup deputies, Zoellin wrote. This yielded him not much else for context. Zoellin wrote that he was told that Russell started the trouble, and reported it that Russell was holding up traffic.
The bus driver is now facing a charge for obstructing the roadway. The disorderly conduct charge against Russell was dropped.

* - CORRECTIONS, Sept. 12:

In the Aug. 30 story “$1.5 million claim made against Snohomish County,” which reported a list of findings against sheriff’s office personnel, some items were incorrect.
One, the story made it appear that the report summary was released publicly by the sheriff’s office. The sheriff’s office gave the report summary to the private individual who made the complaint, who subsequently released the report to the media.
The story also incorrectly reported that the sheriff’s office’s office of professional standards conducted the investigation. The matter was investigated internally within the sheriff’s office as a personnel investigation. The Tribune regrets the errors.



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