When a long-running lawsuit alleging police brutality goes to mediation next week, both plaintiff Adam T. Saetrum and the sheriff’s sergeant he’s suing will each have one court ruling in their favor.
Saetrum, now 23, claims that back in February 2013, Sgt. Jake Vogt of the Ada County Sheriff’s Office intentionally struck him with his patrol car during a police drug buy that went down in the parking lot of Boise Towne Square.
Vogt, who maintains he did nothing wrong, claimed the door of his car may have bumped Saetrum when it opened. But it wasn’t enough for Saetrum to lose his balance, Vogt said in a filing in the federal lawsuit filed in 2013.
Late last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Saetrum, saying a reasonable jury could find Vogt intentionally struck Saetrum with the car.
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“Running into Saetrum with the patrol car violated clearly established law,” the three-member appeals panel wrote in its six-page decision. “Any reasonable officer would have understood using the patrol car as an impact weapon was unconstitutional under the circumstances.”
Saetrum, a Boise resident, said he was injured from the impact of the patrol car, which he claimed knocked him to the ground.
The appeals court did rule a later action by Vogt didn’t violate the law. Saetrum had claimed Vogt grabbed him, spun him around and slammed him to the ground, causing injuries and a concussion.
The court did not weigh in on whether Vogt used excessive force, but rather focused on the context, contrasting the situation with a public intoxication case where force used against a suspect who did not resist arrest left that suspect with a broken back. "... Even assuming the takedown involved an unreasonable application of force, the contours of the law were not sufficiently clear to put any reasonable officer on notice that tackling Saetrum would violate the Constitution," the court wrote.
U.S. District Judge William Shubb, who is handling the case, ordered lawyers for both sides to meet on Thursday with Magistrate Mikel H. Williams to see if a settlement can be reached.
If Thursday’s mediation session fails to bring an agreement, the case is scheduled to go to trial April 10.
Saetrum is seeking $7,835 for treatment of his knee injury, $60,000 for pain and suffering and up to $250,000 in punitive damages.
In a pretrial memo filed last month, Vogt continued to maintain he did not intentionally strike Saetrum or knock him to the ground with his car.
“(The) defendant denies those claims and contends that the only possible physical contact with the patrol car would have been minor contact with the driver side door while (the) defendant was getting out of the patrol car, which did not result in (the) plaintiff falling to the ground,” wrote Ray Chacko, a civil attorney with the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office.
The incident took place in February 2013, after an undercover officer arranged to buy a quantity of marijuana from Saetrum.
Saetrum got in the officer’s unmarked pickup truck in the mall parking lot and showed him the marijuana. The officer told Saetrum he had to go inside the mall to retrieve his money from a friend.
Vogt and Deputy Tyler Stenger, driving marked patrol cars, drove toward the pickup to arrest Saetrum. Two other officers drove toward Saetrum’s car, parked about 50 feet away, to arrest two men waiting inside it.
As Vogt approached the pickup, Saetrum got out and began walking toward his car. Vogt accelerated slightly and intercepted him.
Saetrum pleaded guilty in state court of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance and spent four months in the Correctional Alternative Placement Program in 2014. Since his release from that program, he has worked steadily at a restaurant and is a shift supervisor.
He served five weeks in jail in 2015 following a probation violation. A drug test came back with a dilute result, which occurs when there is too much water in the urine. Saetrum said he missed dinner and breakfast while his family was working on a home improvement project.
Court records show Saetrum has been drug-tested three to six times a month, 120 tests in all, since he was first released from jail. All of the other tests came back negative, court records showed.
He remains on probation through February 2019.
Saetrum also sued the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office in a state action. That case was dismissed in July.
This article has been updated to better reflect the appellate court's ruling.