What started as a dinner out with her husband and friends in downtown Minneapolis ended with a Plymouth woman handcuffed, on the receiving end of a Taser shot and barefoot in a jail cell for at least three hours.
On Monday, Sandra Brown's lawsuit from the Oct. 8, 2005, incident was settled with an agreement from Golden Valley to pay her $200,000 for her federal civil rights and excessive-force claims. Brown, 57, said she suffered bruises on her wrists and arm and went on anti-anxiety medicine for the first time in her life after the incident. She said she remains wary of police.
"I would think twice before I dialed 911 even if I was in trouble," she said. "I truly believed the police were there to protect you, and that belief is not so true anymore."
Jon Iverson, who represented Golden Valley, said the decision to settle was not an admission of wrongdoing. "If we would have tried this case, we would have had an aggressive defense," Iverson said.
But the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust, which insures Golden Valley and some 800 cities in Minnesota, decided to settle rather than take its chances with a federal jury, he said.
Brown's lawyer, Paul Applebaum, said: "$200,000 sounds like an admission of misconduct to me. Most police brutality cases are settled for a nuisance value of $2,500."
As the use of Tasers has increased in recent years, so has debate about them. While officers consider them a safe, nonlethal form of controlling a suspect, others raise concerns about the danger of injury and possibly death from their use. The devices have been criticized by humanitarian and civil rights groups who contend that several hundred people have died since 2001 after being shot by Tasers and that Taser shocks have contributed to or caused at least 50 of the fatalities. Yet, police across the country increasingly are equipping themselves with Tasers, and supporters of the weapons say many more lives have been saved because officers avoided firing bullets.
The current case
In the case settled Monday, the October 2005 evening started at 5 p.m. with a vodka for Sandra Brown and a whiskey for her husband, Richard. They put the empty glasses in their car after finishing the drinks in their driveway, court documents say. At 6:30 p.m., they met friends for dinner in Minneapolis. Sandra Brown had a vodka, a glass of wine, coffee and water with dinner and says she was not drunk. Her husband had a couple of glasses of wine.
On their way home in their 2004 Chrysler Pacifica shortly after midnight, the Browns were pulled over allegedly because Richard Brown was driving 70 miles per hour in a stretch of Interstate 394 with a 55-mph speed limit. Police also say he was driving erratically, changing lanes without signaling and weaving across the center line.
In the formal legal response, the city said a St. Louis Park police officer pursued Richard Brown for 2.5 miles before he pulled over. Richard Brown, 66, thought the officer was trying to stop another vehicle and tried to get out of the way, court documents said. Brown pulled over just before the Louisiana Avenue exit.
Sandra Brown's lawsuit alleges that her husband tried to get out of the Pacifica but was told by St. Louis Park police to stay inside. "He was then forcibly removed from the vehicle, handcuffed and placed in a squad car without any type of explanation to Sandra Brown," the suit said.
Scared for her husband, she called 911 to try to determine why her husband was restrained and in custody.
Golden Valley police officer Rob Zarrett walked to her car and "screamed" at her, ordering her off the phone, according to the lawsuit. She told him she was on the phone with dispatch and he took her phone, threw it and used his Taser gun to "shock and/or disable" her, the suit said.
She was then "forcibly pulled" from her vehicle, taken to the Golden Valley Police Department, booked and detained with her hands cuffed behind her back. She said she was put into a jail cell without being told why and was never told where her husband was taken or why.
In court documents, police say that both Browns were loud and that they belligerently and aggressively declined to cooperate.
Zarrett and the other officers deny knowing Sandra Brown called 911, but say she ignored commands to get off the phone and talk to them. The officers said they saw two clear glasses at her feet "filled with alcohol." Sandra Brown said she was never asked about the glasses and was later told one was empty and the other had a slight amount of alcohol in it, according to documents. She was charged with having an open container of alcohol in the car. The charge was dismissed, she and her lawyer said.
Richard Brown took two breath tests for alcohol at the St. Louis Park police station. He was cited for speeding.
"I know they didn't admit anything, but hopefully having to write that check will make them look at their rules for the use of Tasers," Sandra Brown said Monday.
In January 2008, Golden Valley agreed to pay more than $1.1 million to a black man who police officers threw to the ground and pepper-sprayed after mistaking him for a bank robber nearly three years ago. Al Hixon, a longtime businessman and community leader in Golden Valley, had stopped at a service station in April 2005 when a bank outlet at an adjacent grocery store was robbed. Police dispatchers said the robbery suspect was white.
A federal jury awarded Hixon $778,000 after finding an officer used excessive force. Golden Valley was also ordered to pay nearly $459,000 to cover Hixon's legal fees.
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747