Police settle excessive force suit with 71-year-old woman
PORTLAND, Ore. - The city of Portland has agreed to pay $145,000 to an elderly blind woman after police pepper-sprayed and shocked her with a stun gun.
The altercation began as an attempt to remove shrubs and appliances from 71-year-old Eunice Crowder's yard, and ended with police citing her for harassment and disobeying an order.
This week, the city agreed to settle her excessive force lawsuit out of federal court, a month after a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge dismissed the violations against her.
"This case goes to show that police misconduct and excessive force can happen to anybody outside the mainstream," said Ernest Warren Jr., Crowder's lawyer. "It does not have to be an African American; it can be someone who is elderly and white."
The Portland City Council approved the settlement, based on a review by the city's risk management division that indicated "there is risk the City may be found liable."
The June 9, 2003, incident began when Ed Marihart, a city employee, showed up at Crowder's home. He served her with an administrative search warrant to remove an accumulation of trash and debris.
According to Crowder and her lawyer, the woman told him she was blind and hard of hearing, and asked him to read the entire warrant to her, but he refused. She said he placed it in her hands, walked outside and ordered others to start removing items from her yard.
The city denies that the woman asked Marihart to read the warrant and maintains that Marihart explained to her why he was there.
The woman followed the city employee outside. She was concerned that he and his co-workers had removed a family heirloom, a 90-year-old red toy wagon with rhododendrons in it. She asked to enter a trailer, where items from her yard were being placed, to feel around for the wagon.
Marihart told her she couldn't enter the trailer and said the wagon was not inside. He then called police.
When Portland Officers Robert Miller and Eric Zajac arrived at the house, Crowder acknowledged she had one foot on the curb and one foot on the bumper of the trailer. She felt someone step on her foot and asked, "Who are you?"
Moments later, she felt someone strike her in the head, which dislodged her prosthetic right eye from its socket, and was knocked to the ground, she claimed in her lawsuit.
Officers said Crowder ignored their commands not to climb into the trailer and tried to bite Miller's hand.
They acknowledged she was "pushed onto the dirt next to the sidewalk," according to the city's legal brief filed in court.
While on the ground, Crowder asked the officer what he thought he was doing and kicked Miller. She said the officer kicked her back, then pepper-sprayed her in her eyes.
"While she's still on the ground, on her stomach, they tased her in the back and in the breast," her lawyer said.
Police said they pepper-sprayed Crowder after she refused to stop kicking them. They admit that Crowder's prosthetic eye fell out at some point, and that Zajac stunned Crowder with a Taser, an electric stun gun, twice in the lower back and once in the upper back after ordering her to stop fighting and resisting.
Warren said the city's argument is bogus. He said, "To kick the crap out of old folks seems a little bit much to me in the name of law enforcement,"
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)