Center files suit on behalf of Spokane man detained and endangered after he summoned police
There’s no question that Robert Chambers did the right thing after he and his ex-wife heard a gunshot in the parking lot of their north Spokane apartment complex. Investigating the sound of the gunshot, Chambers saw a man with a gun and called 911.
What he couldn’t have imagined is that he would be the one taken into custody and that after being handcuffed he’d be put in a patrol car that would then be used as a shield by Spokane police in a standoff with the gunman.
This alarming case of mistaken identity and endangerment is now the subject of a federal lawsuit. Chambers is a 57-year-old man who suffers from a debilitating bone disease. Lawyers for the Center for Justice are seeking damages for “unreasonable seizure” and for alleged post-traumatic emotional injuries triggered as a result of Chambers’s harrowing experience in February 2005.
In the complaint filed late last week against the City, former police chief Roger Bragdon, and two individual police officers, Chambers says he was told by the 911 operator to leave his apartment and go outside to meet responding officers. But when the officers arrived, the complaint alleges, it was Chambers who was ordered to behave like a suspect, lie on his stomach with two other innocent bystanders, and then handcuffed and placed in a patrol car. According to the complaint, Chambers was taken into custody despite the efforts of his ex-wife and daughter to inform the police that they were arresting the person who’d called for help. While in the car, Chambers says he even heard the police dispatcher informing the officers that the 911 operator was reporting that the officers had seized the wrong man. Still, it was only after another police officer arrived on the scene and intervened that Chambers was released.
“Why was I singled out to be cuffed and no one else?” Chambers asked in a complaint he wrote to Bragdon in a March 9, 2005 complaint about the incident. And why, he asked, wasn’t he moved out of harm’s way during the standoff with the shooter.
“The officers used the car I was in as a shield while the suspect was being told to come out of the apartment,” Chambers wrote. “Now had the suspect been a real nut case, I was a prime target and probably would have been shot.”
Chambers, who was an active volunteer in the city’s Community Oriented Policing Services (C.O.P.S.) program, wrote that he’d “never had anything but the utmost respect” for Spokane police until the incident. In the letter to Bragdon, however, he bitterly complained about being “publicly humiliated and totally disrespected by your officers” and reported that his frustration only mounted after he tried, several times, to file a complaint about the incident with the department’s internal affairs branch.
In a March 23, 2005 response to Chambers, Deputy Police Chief Jim Nicks, defended the officers actions of putting Chambers in handcuffs and “securing you in a patrol car.”
“However,” Nicks conceded, “leaving you in a patrol car that possibly places you in harm’s way is not consistent with the mission of the police department. In reviewing this incident, it appears our officers made a tactical error.”
The lawsuit alleges that Chambers’s treatment violated his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable seizure; that the City is responsible for “failure to properly train” the officers involved, and that the City and former Chief Bragdon are responsible for the policies that led to the violation of Chambers’s Constitutional rights.