Budge & Heipt Obtains Seven-Figure Settlement for Man Shot in Knee

The Tacoma News Tribune is reporting on a seven-figure settlement obtained by Budge & Heipt for a man shot in the knee during a police raid.

From the Tacoma News Tribune, November 28th 2020:

Man unjustifiably shot during SWAT raid gets seven-figure settlement from Pierce County

Pierce County will pay $1.25 million dollars to settle the shooting of a man by a sheriff’s deputy later ruled unjustified by the Sheriff’s Department.

Jerad Wooten was shot in the knee in January 2018 while at a friend’s Bonney Lake house the night of a SWAT team raid, according to county records obtained by The News Tribune.

The Sheriff’s Department decided to settle Wooten’s claim for damages, and Pierce County Council authorized the settlement Nov. 3.

One of Wooten’s attorneys, Erik Heipt, said his client and he are content with the settlement and the process.

“We are happy about the settlement, and we think that Pierce County deserves some credit for taking it serious without wasting taxpayer money on useless litigation,” Heipt told The News Tribune on Nov. 23.

The county’s SWAT team executed a search warrant about 5:30 a.m. on Jan. 30, 2018 in the 11000 block of 206th Avenue. The team was searching for evidence of stolen vehicles, illegal firearms and drugs.

The 17-person team broke into two groups, surrounding the house in the front and back, according to incident reports.

While the team intended to have the element of surprise for a “high-risk” warrant, two men were outside the front entrance. One deputy yelled “compromise” to mean the element of surprise was lost, the reports state.

Deputy Phil Wylie, dressed in heavy ballistic vest and SWAT gear, shone a light at the two men in front of the door.

Wooten and another person were smoking a cigarette and sitting on the front porch when police yelled commands at them, the incident report said.

Wooten did not move from his seated position. Wylie shot Wooten in the leg with a Glock 9mm handgun before the SWAT team entered the house, police records show. Eleven people were detained and no other shots were fired.

Wooten’s knee cap was fragmented, and he underwent two surgeries, his attorney said. Hospital bills reached more than $136,600, according to the damages claim Wooten filed against Pierce County.

Wooten, a 37-year-old who works as a caregiver for developmentally disabled adults, told The News Tribune in an email on Nov. 24 the shooting was the worst pain he has experienced.

“I was also afraid for my life,” the Pierce County resident said. “It was a horrible ordeal that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.”

Wylie reported that Wooten held a razor blade at the time of the shooting. While there was a razor blade found on the ground near the front door, no other officer independently confirmed seeing Wooten with a razor blade, according to their reports.

Wooten’s fingerprints were not found on the razor blade by forensic labs, police reports show.

Wooten was not charged, but the subject of the search warrant was arrested and charged with stolen vehicles, falsifying registrations and unlawful possession of a firearm.

The Sheriff’s Department’s Board of Professional Standards ruled 8-1 that the shooting was unjustified in November 2018 because the shooting was “not reasonable to the actions of Wooten.”

Agreeing with the ruling, then-Sheriff Paul Pastor said the following in a memorandum:

“Deputy Wylie did not give commands to the individual to drop the weapon, did not alert other team members of the weapon he observed, did not take action to ensure the weapon was secured, and he delayed reporting that he shot a person even after requests to do so were made from command via radio.”

To date, there has been no punitive action taken against Wylie, who remains on the job.

“The internal investigation has been concluded and will be working its way through the administrative review path, where a final determination regarding potential department policy violations will be made,” newly elected Sheriff Ed Troyer said in an email.

Troyer said the length of time for the internal investigation is unacceptable, and he has made it a top priority to streamline the process.

Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office determined there did not appear to be any criminal intent, and Wylie was not charged.

Wylie resigned as a SWAT team member.

“Wylie remains employed as a Deputy Sheriff and is currently assigned to property crimes investigations,” Troyer said in an email.

Wooten’s attorney said as soon as his firm saw the case, it knew it was an unjustified shooting.

“This was a person who was not a suspect, not engaged in any illegal activity. He was sitting on the front porch step smoking a cigarette when he was shot by deputy Wylie,” Heipt said. “Even if someone has a tiny razor, it wouldn’t have justified the shooting because he wasn’t advancing, and these guys were fully decked out in shields and body armor.”

Wooten said the shooting caused him a great deal of anxiety and trauma and has led him to think about other people subjected to use of force by police. He believes policing in America needs to be better.

“I sincerely hope the settlement sends a message to county officials that a new approach is needed in law enforcement,” he said in an email. “I hope that it causes them to require better training and to demand accountability. It’s my strong desire that the county and the sheriff’s department take whatever steps are necessary to prevent this sort of thing from happening again.”

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