Taser suit settles out of court for $40K
Jared Massey, the Vernal motorist who was Tasered by Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Jon Gardner during a Sept. 14 traffic stop, agreed to drop his federal lawsuit against the trooper Monday in exchange for $40,000.
Massey, who pleaded guilty in January to a speeding charge arising from the stop, had filed the suit in federal court the same month and requested a jury trial to determine damages for alleged civil rights violations.
According to a press release from the Utah Attorney General’s Office, the state agreed to pay Massey $40,000, which money for attorney’s fees and medical expenses. In turn, Massey agreed to drop any current or future claims against the state, Gardner, the UHP and the state Department of Public Safety related to the incident.
“This settlement was the most efficient resolution of what would be lengthy and expensive litigation of a strongly disputed claim,” said Assistant Utah Attorney General Scott Cheney in a prepared statement.
A motion to dismiss the civil charges against Gardner was filed in federal court Monday.
UHP Sgt. Jeff Nigbur said in a telephone interview Monday evening that the agency had concluded its internal affairs investigation, which confirmed the findings from a preliminary review of the incident that Gardner’s actions were justifiable.
Nigbur said, however, that Gardner has received a letter of counsel for failing to communicate adequately with Massey during the traffic stop and for failing to follow the UHP’s protocol for removing the Taser probes from Massey’s back. Nigbur said Gardner did not to use rubber gloves to remove the probes or the clean wounds with alcohol wipes.
A letter of counsel is not considered a reprimand, Nigbur said. It will remain in Gardner’s file while he works in the UHP’s Section 5 – the section that serves Duchesne, Uintah and Daggett counties. The letter is not a permanent part of Gardner’s personnel file, though, and will not follow him if he transfers to another section.
Gardner was placed on administrative leave in September, shortly after Massey posted video of the traffic stop on YouTube. The UHP said the leave was meant to protect the trooper due to numerous anonymous death threats made against him on the Internet.
Gardner was required to undergo remedial communications training before returning to duty.
Nigbur said the UHP is now reviewing how the Section 5 office handled Massey’s verbal complaint – no formal written complaint was ever filed by Massey – to determine if there were problems with the process.
“We’re going to look at the procedure to see if anything needs to be improved,” Nigbur said.
Massey said Tuesday that the need for legal action on his part could have been avoided entirely if the Vernal UHP office had actively investigated his complaint when he made it.
“I wish that they would have taken care of it up front and none of this would have happened and no one ever would have saw a YouTube video,” he said. “That’s true and I’ve told them that.”
Massey said a portion of the money he’ll receive from the state will go to charity.
The out-of-court settlement and UHP investigation findings come on the heels of a March 3 decision by the Tooele County Attorney’s Office ruling not to charge Gardner criminally for using his Taser.
In a seven-page letter to the Utah Attorney General’s Office, the Tooele prosecutors said Gardner “did not commit a violation of a Utah criminal statute when deploying his Taser.” They said the circumstances surrounding the incident “rose to a level of non-compliance where the use of force was reasonably necessary” to arrest Massey.
Massey was pulled over on U.S. 40 west of Vernal after Gardner observed him speeding. During a confrontational traffic stop, Massey refused to sign a speeding ticket and was ordered out of his sport utility vehicle.
Massey has said that he believed Gardner was going to allow him to point out a nearby speed limit sign that the father of two had passed shortly before being stopped. Instead, Gardner ordered Massey to place his hands behind his back.
When Massey didn’t immediately comply, Gardner pulled his Taser and repeated the command three more times as Massey walked back toward his SUV before firing the weapon. Massey, immobilized by the Taser’s 50,000 volts, fell backward screaming onto the shoulder of the road.
The stop gained international attention after Massey obtained a copy of the video captured by Gardner’s dash-mounted camera and posted it on YouTube. To date, the video has been viewed more than 1.7 million times.