City to support officer in suit alleging excess force

A Grand Junction Police Department officer facing a civil rights lawsuit for allegedly using unnecessary force while deploying a Taser on a restrained man will receive legal backing from the city of Grand Junction.

The Grand Junction City Council on Wednesday night voted 6-0 in a resolution to defend the federal civil lawsuit against Cpl. Tyler Simonson.

Councilor Barbara Traylor Smith was absent from the meeting.

Grand Junction can utilize a $150,000 deductible to fund legal fights through its insurance company, Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency, or CIRSA. The city is responsible for paying any costs above the deductible and would have to pay any fees if it loses the lawsuit.

“I think it’s essential that we as a council back our front-line officers,” Councilor Chris Kennedy said. … “It’s our duty to support them in every way that we can.”

According to the lawsuit, Grand Junction resident Robert Johnson, 47, alleges he was seeking medical treatment for suicidal ideations at St. Mary’s Hospital on Aug. 12, 2015, when he was physically injured by a security guard, Dennis Fink. Johnson said Simonson came from behind Fink and deployed a Taser on him while Johnson was lying down restrained in bed.

After waiting for hours to receive treatment at St. Mary’s, Johnson said he learned that the hospital was waiting for an ambulance to transfer him to Mind Springs Hospital. Johnson’s sister Kim Clinton, who took her brother to the hospital, told the nurse that she would rather drive him to Mind Springs a few miles away.

Johnson said the nurse became “hostile” telling him for the first time that he had been placed on a 72-hour mental health hold and Johnson was not free to leave, the lawsuit alleges.

Johnson said 10 hospital employees surrounded him in a U-shape and Johnson assumed a defensive stance, warning employees of pre-existing brain and back injuries, “in anticipation they were going to use physical force against him,” the lawsuit alleges.

During this incident, Clinton was “forcibly removed” from the hospital.

Johnson said security guard Dennis Fink tackled him to the ground, fracturing a rib and breaking a bone in his elbow. Johnson was then restrained by his arms and legs to a hospital bed, but the restraint on Johnson’s left arm was applied too loosely. While another security guard came back into the room to reapply the restraint, Fink came in and began to apply force to Johnson’s face with his forearm, causing Johnson pain, the complaint alleges.

Johnson bit Fink’s arm in self-defense, the lawsuit alleges. Shortly after that, Johnson said he heard someone shout “stand back, live with Taser,” and Johnson felt a jolt of electricity in his body.

After the incident, Johnson said he was arrested on suspicion of second-degree assault and charges related to resisting arrest, and he was released from the Mesa County Jail the next day on a personal-recognizance bond. Johnson said he was later acquitted of charges in the 2015 case, “thereby confirming that he had not engaged in any unlawful conduct during this incident,” the lawsuit reads.

The lawsuit filed Aug. 11 in Colorado’s U.S. District Court also lists defendants St. Mary’s Medical Center and HSS Inc., the hospital’s security company.

Johnson is seeking an undisclosed amount of money from Simonson, HSS and St. Mary’s as well as reasonable attorney fees and costs and punitive damages.

In an Aug. 12, 2015, GJPD report Simonson reported he arrived at the hospital as backup on a report that a patient was screaming profanities while security attempted to restrain the man.

Simonson said he looked through the window of the door to the hospital room and saw Johnson struggling with his arm restraints, and noticed Johnson used his freed left hand to quickly remove the restraint from his right hand, the report said.

Simonson said he intended to place Johnson back in restraints on the bed, but Johnson loudly yelled an expletive and lunged at Johnson in an “aggressive manner.”

Simonson reported Johnson lunged at him from about four feet away.

Simonson said he deployed his Taser and Johnson’s body became stiff after being hit. Johnson refused medical treatment and was taken to the Mesa County Jail, the report said.


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