The city of Cortez and a former Cortez police officer agreed in January to pay a $100,000 settlement in a lawsuit filed a year after the officer pleaded guilty in a criminal misconduct case.
Officer Reuben Liska resigned Feb. 4, 2017, amid a criminal investigation into an allegation that he had “inappropriate physical contact” with a woman who had called for police assistance. He was charged with one count of official misconduct in Montezuma County, and after pleading guilty in August 2017, was sentenced the following November to two years of probation.
Almost a year after the criminal case was closed, the woman filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court in August 2018.
According to a final settlement agreement obtained by The Journal through a public records request, the parties on Jan. 25, 2019, agreed that the city of Cortez and Liska would pay $100,000 to the plaintiff and her lawyers. Each party agreed to pay their own attorney’s fees.
It is unclear if the city must pay a percentage of the settlement and Liska must pay a percentage, or what that breakdown might be.
Both parties on Feb. 25, 2019, signed on to a motion to dismiss the case with prejudice, meaning the plaintiff cannot refile the lawsuit. U.S. District Court Chief Judge Philip A. Brimmer dismissed the civil lawsuit the same day.
The settlement document states the plaintiff and her attorneys cannot discuss the settlement. However, the facts of the case are public record.
According to the complaint, the plaintiff called police to report that her boyfriend was missing on Jan. 22, 2017. About 9 p.m., Liska and another police officer arrived at her home, discussed the situation with her, then left.
The plaintiff’s complaint states Liska returned later that night and “sexually assaulted (the plaintiff) in her home under the guise of conducting a police investigation.” The complaint further states that “Liska did not have probable cause to search and seize the Plaintiff and her home.”
In the defendant’s response to the complaint, Liska acknowledged that he was dispatched to her home, left and returned later in the night, but he denied that he assaulted her.
The plaintiff’s complaint argues that the city of Cortez failed to properly and effectively scrutinize evidence in Liska’s employment history indicating that Liska, who was hired in 2016, “acted inappropriately with women while on duty as a law enforcement officer before and during the time he served as a Cortez police officer.”
“This inappropriate conduct was recurring and part of an obvious pattern,” the complaint states.
The complaint also claimed that the city’s policies and practices concerning hiring, monitoring and disciplining officers were unsatisfactory and were done with “conscious indifference” to the plaintiff’s constitutional rights.
As a result, Liska’s actions deprived the plaintiff of her liberty, equal protection of the law and due process, the complaint says.
Liska’s response denies that there is evidence that he acted inappropriately with women in the past and that the claims against him were “substantially frivolous” and groundless, entitling Liska to recover reasonable expenses, including attorney’s fees.
“Plaintiff’s injuries, damages and losses, if any, are the result of Plaintiff’s intentional conduct,” Liska stated in his response.
While the Liska civil case played out, the city of Cortez faced the possibility of paying out another financial settlement because of actions of police officers.
On Feb. 5, 2016, Cortez resident Shane French and two members of his family filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the city of Cortez, and police officers Casey Eubanks, Jennifer Lodge, Boyd Neagle, Ryan Carter, Sgt. David Allmon and Chief Roy Lane.
The suit was filed after French was found not guilty in 22nd Judicial District Court in 2014 on all charges relating to the alleged stabbing of a Cortez police officer.
The civil case is set for a jury trial in Denver beginning Sept. 16, but the case could be settled during a May 2 settlement conference.
French seeks damages that arose out of the “unconstitutional conduct” of the six Cortez employees. It states police were called to help the French family but instead illegally entered the home, broke down the door and proceeded to “beat down” and repeatedly tase French, who is a qualified individual with a disability.
“The Defendants misperceived the effects of Shane French’s disability as criminal activity,” the 2016 complaint states.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages for emotional distress, humiliation, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of companionship with family members after he was jailed for 297 days and found not guilty, appropriate relief at law, punitive damages and attorney fees.