EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — A non-English speaking Chinese college student disputes a Eugene police officer’s account of events that led the officer to shoot the student with a Taser stun gun, the student’s lawyer says.
Eugene attorney Ilona Koleszar also said on Jan. 7 that her client intends to sue the city over the Sept. 22 incident.
Koleszar said her client, who has not been identified, denies making any move toward Officer Judd Warden inside the foreign student’s Eugene townhouse.
Warden wrote in a police report that he fired the stun dart into the student’s chest because he thought the 19-year-old moved toward him to possibly hurt him. However, the lawyer says the student denies that he moved toward Warden at all.
Koleszar is the legal services director for the Associated Students of the University of Oregon.
Police Chief Pete Kerns said this week that Warden’s decision to stun the student was objectively reasonable under the circumstances and within police department policy. Kerns declined to comment on Jan. 7 regarding the student’s contention that he made no move toward Warden. The chief said the officer’s and student’s statements didn’t agree in every way but there is evidence supporting the officer’s statement.
Kerns’ finding on the use of the stun gun was immediately questioned by the city police auditor and local Asian Americans.
The incident occurred hours after the student and his roommate moved into the town house. Timothy Breen, the landlord, initially told police that he thought the people inside had broken in, only later realizing they were the rightful occupants. Both are Chinese citizens. Warden also said he used the stun gun after the student did not respond to repeated commands to show his hands.
Kerns said the police department’s Taser policy allows officers to fire a stun gun at anyone if an officer “reasonably believes that there is an immediate, credible threat.”
Kerns, however, conceded that it wasn’t an easy call, and the use of force was at “the edge” of what’s allowed.
City Police Auditor Mark Gissiner — who oversaw a police department investigation into the case — said Wednesday that he informed Kerns prior to the chief’s ruling that he believes Warden inappropriately fired the Taser.
Kerns also met in private on Jan. 6 with the Tasered student and his roommate.
“I told them that I am sorry this happened,” Kerns said.
Lawyer Koleszar said the students appreciated that meeting and apology “but that doesn’t mean they are satisfied with the outcome.”
The Register-Guard, a local newspaper, says Kerns wrote in a memo to the City Council that police find no fault with the students in the encounter.
University and city officials have said for months that the students wanted the case decided quickly and quietly.
The lawyer said their attitudes have changed somewhat since details first emerged.
“They still don’t want the publicity, but they feel more and more like something wrong happened here,” she said.
She said she planned to notify the city in a timely way of the intent to sue.
“I think they are entitled and should be paid over this because that’s the only thing the system could give them,” she said.
Kerns didn’t seem surprised.
“This is the kind of incident that leads to a lawsuit and the student is certainly within his rights to pursue that,” he said. ♦