Making a Case for Training

By Andrew Ching
Assistant City Attorney, City of Tempe

Ed's Note: In October 2003, IPMBA was contacted by Andrew Ching, Assistant City Attorney for the City of Tempe. A bicycle officer was involved in a lawsuit stemming from an incident in which he grabbed the arm of a cycling suspect, resulting in a fall and subsequent injury. An expert witness for the plaintiff claimed that the IPMBA curriculum explicitly taught officers to not engage in physical contact with other cyclists. He claimed to have found this information on the IPMBA website. Mr. Ching contacted IPMBA, spoke with former president T.J. Richardson, and purchased the Complete Guide to Police Cycling. T.J. also spoke with the expert witness for the defendant. The details have been provided by Mr. Ching, who has graciously agreed to conduct a workshop on legal issues during the 15th Annual IPMBA Conference, April 21-23, 2005, in Scottsdale, Arizona.

On June 30, 2001, at approximately 9:57 p.m., Tempe police bicycle officer Sean Still, along with other bike officers, responded to an indecent exposure call at the intersection of 5th Street and Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. Officer Still was wearing a Tempe Police Bike Officer uniform and hat, and was riding a bicycle that was marked with Tempe Police insignia. Mill Avenue was busy on this particular night, with heavy foot and vehicular traffic. Children were in the area. Mill Avenue was brightly illuminated. As Officer Still rode his police bike southbound on Mill Avenue, he witnessed three male persons (hereinafter "suspects"), all nude, racing their bicycles north on Mill Avenue approaching Fifth Street. The suspects' genitals were fully exposed to the public. Officer Still yelled at the suspects to stop. As they approached Officer Still and his partner, each of the suspects headed off into different directions.

One of the suspects, Plaintiff John Long, tried to swerve past Officer Still. Officer Still managed to grab Plaintiff's right arm as Plaintiff rode past him. However, Officer Still lost his grip on Plaintiff's right arm, and Plaintiff lost control of his bicycle and fell to the ground, where he sustained a serious knee injury. Officer Still then placed handcuffs on Plaintiff, who was not cooperating. The commotion caused traffic to grind to a halt. A large crowd gathered around Officer Still and Plaintiff, who were both in the middle of Mill Avenue near Fifth Street. While being treated at the scene by the Tempe Fire Department, Plaintiff admitted to consuming three to four beers. Plaintiff was subsequently transported to Tempe St. Luke's Hospital, where he was issued a citation for disorderly conduct, indecent exposure, and delay and obstruct.

Plaintiff argued that Officer Still used excessive force to stop and arrest him, and through the testimony of his expert witness Mr. Ken Barnes stated that Officer Still had other options, such as letting Plaintiff ride by and establish a perimeter, pursue him on bicycle, or dismount his bicycle and either attempt to block him with his bicycle or to grab the back of Plaintiff's bicycle and hold on until he stopped. The expert witness for Tempe and Officer Still, Commander Richard Groeneveld of the Phoenix Police Department, testified that Officer Still's use of force was reasonable under the circumstances.

During closing arguments, Plaintiffs argued that Plaintiff had incurred over $124,000 in medical expenses, including a full knee replacement, and that he would need 2-3 more total knee replacements in his lifetime. They asked for a total award of between $750,000 and $1.5 million for medical expenses and pain and suffering, to be reduced only slightly, if at all, by the comparative fault of the Plaintiff. Officer Still and Tempe argued that Plaintiff was wholly at fault, especially due to his consumption of alcohol, his decision to race his friends in a crowded downtown area while naked, and his decision to evade Officer Still. The jury deliberated for a little over an hour, and returned a full verdict in favor of Still and Tempe.

Thank you to IPMBA for your assistance during this trial, especially your publication The Complete Guide to Police Cycling, which was an invaluable resource throughout.

© 2004 IPMBA. This article first appeared in the Summer 2004 issue of IPMBA News.

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