December 18, 2014

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Vermilion hands out $720,000 in settlements in police use-of-force cases

VERMILION — The city has settled two lawsuits accusing its police officers of excessive force for a total of $720,000.

The largest settlement of $625,000 will be paid to Jill Garvey, who was pulled from a car and slammed into the ground by now-retired Cpl. Richard Grassnig during a Feb. 19, 2005, arrest.

Jessica Brandt will receive $95,000 for her treatment by Grassnig when she went to the Vermilion Police Department after her husband’s arrest April 14, 2011.

Mark Landes, an attorney for the city’s insurance company, which will pay the money, said despite the settlements, the city continues to deny wrongdoing. He said the settlements were reached in part to avoid the expense of continued litigation.

He also said that the Vermilion Police Department is looking to the future with new Police Chief Chris Hartung.

“They’ve got a really good team with a fresh chief, and they’re looking to move forward,” Landes said.

Mark Petroff, Garvey’s attorney, said even though the city continues to officially deny wrongdoing, the settlement for his client indicates that there was a problem with how his client was treated.

“The amount of the settlement speaks for itself as to their culpability,” he said.

Richard Garvey was driving his wife’s car in 2005 when he was pulled over by then-Vermilion police Officer Larry Miller, who knew Richard Garvey’s driver’s license was suspended. Jill Garvey was a passenger in the vehicle, and police reported both Garveys, who had been at a bar, were intoxicated.

Officer Craig Howell soon arrived at the scene and put Jill Garvey in the back of his police cruiser. After being told her car would be towed, she became “agitated” and “defiant” and refused to sign a ticket for wrongful entrustment so she could be released, according to an appeals court decision upholding Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Edward Zaleski’s decision to allow the case to go to trial.

Police decided to arrest her, but she refused to get out of the patrol car so she could be handcuffed. Grassnig and Howell then pulled her from the cruiser, and Grassnig slammed her to the ground and handcuffed her, according to Garvey’s lawsuit.

Garvey landed on her chest and face, breaking a bone around her eye and fracturing one of her sinuses, court documents said. She also was bruised and sustained other injuries.

Howell and Grassnig, who faced numerous excessive force complaints during his career, both insisted that they acted properly and argued that Garvey lunged forward as she was being removed from the cruiser. Garvey denied that happened.
The lawsuit also complained that the Vermilion officers hadn’t been properly trained and that the Police Department knew about Grassnig’s history. For instance, Petroff contended that between 2004 and 2006, Grassnig’s use of force rate per number of arrests was 13.24 percent, well above the average of 2.21 percent for other Vermilion officers.

Garvey also had complained that police didn’t perform a proper investigation into her complaints about her treatment. Former Vermilion Police Chief Robert Kish has previously said that an internal investigation cleared his officers of wrongdoing.

Jill Garvey ultimately pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct in the case, while Richard Garvey pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct, driving under suspension and DUI charges, according to Vermilion Municipal Court records.

In the second case, Brandt went to the Vermilion Police Department after learning that her husband, Herman “Roy” Walleen, had been arrested for allegedly driving under suspension and fleeing police.

According to the lawsuit, Brandt told Grassnig that her husband’s health was poor and asked if she could see him, according to the lawsuit filed earlier this year.

She began to follow Grassnig because she thought he was taking her to see her husband, the lawsuit said.

“Grassnig, however, grabbed her arm and shoved her back,” the lawsuit said. “Ms. Brandt, startled and scared, hurriedly tried to leave the waiting area. Without provocation or justification, Grassnig pursued Ms. Brandt out of the building, grabbed and pushed her to the ground where she sustained injuries.”

Grassnig then handcuffed her, took her into the police station and charged her with disorderly conduct and assault on a police officer, the lawsuit said.

In a reply to the lawsuit, Grassnig’s attorneys wrote that their client “admits that (Brandt) was arrested after trying to force her way into a secure area of the Police Department and assaulting Officer Grassnig.” They denied the other allegations leveled against him.

Brandt spent five nights in jail and was never indicted by an Erie County grand jury, the lawsuit said. Vermilion Municipal Court records indicate that the charges against her were ultimately dropped by prosecutors.

Court records showed that Walleen died while awaiting trial.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.