Cortez police likely to face lawsuit in Make My Day case

Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016 1:23 PM

A Denver attorney has confirmed that a civil lawsuit is likely against the Cortez Police Department in connection to a 2014 Make My Day criminal trial.

In a 1,154-word letter dated Jan. 12, attorney Kathyrn Stimson notified city attorney Mike Green that a Cortez family was determined to secure a fair resolution in connection to the Feb. 14, 2014, arrest of Shane French. Stimson wrote that the family would take legal action if necessary, and included a complaint and jury demand.

Police arrested French, 39, of Cortez inside his parent’s home. He was charged with attempted first-degree murder, first-degree assault, criminal mischief, attempt to disarm a peace officer, obstruction, resisting arrest, reckless endangerment and menacing. After spending about 10 months in jail awaiting trial, a jury acquitted him.

“Based upon my evaluation of the facts and circumstances surrounding the Feb. 14, 2014, incident at the French home, I have advised the family they have viable and compelling claims for violations of their constitutionally protected rights including illegal entry, excessive force, unlawful arrest, malicious prosecution and claims pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Stimson advised Green.

In her letter, Stimson claimed that patrol officers Casey Eubanks, Jennifer Lodge, Boyd Neagle, Ryan Carter, David Allmon and Chief Roy Lane were all responsible for “unlawful actions” on the night in question.

Green neither confirmed nor denied that he received Stimson’s letter. Neither Mayor Karen Sheek nor City Manager Shane Hale responded to a request for comment.

In custody at the Montezuma County jail since Feb. 17, 2015, French faces criminal charges for violating a protection order and obstructing justice after a woman called police alleging that he parked his vehicle outside her workplace to scare her.

Court records reveal a three-day jury trial on the pending charges against French was set to start Thursday.

Family criticizes police

Last week, Patti French notified The Journal of the potential civil-rights lawsuit but declined to comment. In December 2014, she talked with The Journal after her son was acquitted.

“I hope something is done with these officers,” she said from the courtroom. “I can’t believe they are still on the force after what they did.”

During the criminal proceedings, undisputed evidence revealed that French was suffering a mental breakdown when officers arrived in response to an emergency 911 call made by his mother on Feb. 14, 2014.

After barging into the home, Eubanks testified that he picked French off the ground and slammed him face-down onto the ground. He also said the knife-wielding defendant nicked him on the left side of his stomach. He initially refused medical treatment, but was treated with a bandage.

Four days after French’s arrest, Eubanks was ordered by the police department to undergo anger-management counseling after he damaged a police car the night of the arrest. No other officers were admonished, according to a review of personnel files in January 2015.

Neagle, now a marijuana code enforcement officer with the city, testified at trial that he violated the department’s stun gun policy while arresting French. Police stunned French seven times, including five times in 2½ minutes after he had been handcuffed.

Weeks after the jury acquitted French of assaulting police officers, his father, Glenn French, told The Journal that police were the aggressors.

“I’ve never seen the cops act like that,” Glenn French said.

He said his son suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Law enforcement needs better training on how to de-escalate situations – not use excessive force,” he told The Journal weeks after the acquittal.

Attorneys used to high-profile cases

Representing the French family, Stimson has made a name for herself in civil-rights litigation and received a $1.8 million jury verdict against the Denver Police Department in 2014. That case also involved unlawful entry into a home, false arrest and malicious prosecution.

Stimson’s co-counsel, David Lane, is a partner at the Killmer, Lane & Newman law firm in Denver. In private practice since 1987, one of Lane’s most high-profile legal battles, Reichle v. Howards, was a First Amendment case against two Secret Service agents who arrested an individual for making anti-war remarks to Vice President Dick Cheney in 2006.

In her letter to Green, Stimson requested the city notify her of a potential settlement by Feb. 1.