When a convicted marijuana dealer filed a claim in 2013 alleging excessive force during an arrest earlier that year, he sued then-Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney, 11 patrol and jail deputies, and their supervisors.
Over the past two years, a federal judge has crossed off defendant after defendant from the lawsuit, after ruling that Raney and others held no liability for what happened. What’s left is one claim against Sgt. Jake Vogt that Senior U.S. District Judge William Shubb says can be brought before a jury.
Last month, Shubb ruled that a jury would have to decide whether Vogt intentionally struck Adam T. Saetrum while Saetrum was walking in the parking lot of Boise Towne Square during a police drug buy in February 2013. Vogt denies that he struck Saetrum with his patrol car and argued that the claim against him should also be dismissed, but Shubb found that the only evidence presented so far came from Vogt himself.
“Whether a jury ultimately finds that Sgt. Vogt intentionally hit plaintiff with his patrol car thus hinges on whether the jury finds Sgt. Vogt’s testimony credible,” Shubb wrote.
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Saetrum was convicted in state court of delivery of a controlled substance and spent just more than four months in prison and in the Correctional Alternative Placement Program in 2014. He is seeking damages in an amount to be determined at trial.
His case was placed on hold Monday after Ada County, which is defending Vogt, appealed Shubb’s ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The incident took place after an undercover officer arranged to buy a pound of marijuana from Saetrum for $2,600.
Saetrum entered the officer’s unmarked pickup truck and showed the officer the marijuana. The officer told Saetrum he had to go inside the mall to get his money from a friend.
Vogt and Deputy Tyler Stenger, in marked patrol cars, drove toward the undercover officer’s pickup to arrest Saetrum. Two other officers drove toward Saetrum’s car, parked about 50 feet away, to arrest two men waiting in it.
As Vogt approached the pickup, Saetrum got out and began walking toward his car. Vogt accelerated slightly.
This is where their accounts diverge: Saetrum said Vogt struck him with his car, causing him to fall to the ground.
Saetrum said he got up and Vogt grabbed him, spun him around and slammed him to the ground. Saetrum said he struck his forehead on the pavement and was briefly knocked unconscious. He said he suffered a concussion and injuries to his abdomen and knee.
Vogt said he never intended for his patrol car to be used as an “impact weapon.”
“My door may have bumped Adam Saetrum when it opened, but not enough for (him) to lose his balance,” Vogt wrote in a court filing.
He also denies that Saetrum’s head hit the pavement. “He did not make a sound and did not make any complaints,” Vogt wrote. “I handcuffed and searched Adam Saetrum for weapons while he was on the ground. He was not unconscious.”
Saetrum said he was denied medical care at the scene and later when he was taken to the Ada County Jail. But Shubb tossed out that claim, concluding that even if everything Saetrum said was true, it wouldn't have been obvious to the deputies that Saetrum needed medical assistance.
Shubb wrote that the 9th Circuit has held on many occasions that dismissals ahead of trial in excessive force cases should be “granted sparingly.”
The Ada County Sheriff’s Office argued that Saetrum’s commission of a felony coupled by deputies’ not knowing whether he was armed meant Saetrum posed an immediate risk to the safety of the officers and the public.
Shubb found that there was no evidence that Saetrum was armed or owned a weapon. And though Vogt indicated that it appeared Saetrum “was getting ready to run,” the judge found “the undisputed evidence is that he never ran or attempted to flee.”
Shubb wrote that a jury might infer from the evidence of Saetrum’s injuries “that the force used to effect the takedown was excessive.”
This article has been updated to better reflect court briefings and Shubb's ruling.