Settlement Reached In Lawsuit Against Nelsonville Police

By
Steve Robb - Athens Messenger staff reporter

Dateline
Updated Thu, Jul 3, 2014 12:29 pm

The parties involved in a federal lawsuit that alleged excessive use of force by Nelsonville police have reached a settlement, although it has not been finalized, court documents indicate.

Dennis Lehman of Nelsonville filed a lawsuit in 2013 against Nelsonville police officers Duane Covert and Alex Brown claiming that excessive force was used during a 2011 arrest and that medical care was delayed, which the lawsuit asserted were violations of Lehman’s constitutional rights. The officers denied any wrongdoing and claimed that Lehman resisted arrest.

On Tuesday, attorneys for Lehman and the city's insurance provider filed a status report in the case saying that a settlement had been reached during mediation.

"The parties have reached a settlement of the case. However, that settlement cannot be finalized until a paid claims amount is obtained from the Ohio Tort Recovery Unit," the document states.

The unit is the state agency involved in Medicaid cost recovery. In cases where Medicaid paid claims, Medicaid has a lien in that amount against any settlement. The lien amount is deducted from the settlement amount that the person filing a lawsuit might receive.

According to the attorneys, they have been attempting to get the lien amount.

"Counsel will continue to communicate with the Ohio Tort Recovery Unit to get this information from them as quickly as possible, but in counsels' experience it can sometimes take months to obtain this information," the attorneys told the judge in Tuesday's filing.

Magistrate Judge Norah McCann King said that a status conference in the case will be held Sept. 12, unless a dismissal entry is filed by the attorneys. If the case is still pending Sept. 12, and no one appears for the conference, the case will be dismissed, King said in a court filing.

The original lawsuit sought in excess of $25,000 against each officer on the excessive force allegation, and in excess of $25,000 against both officers on the alleged failure to provide medical attention.

At dispute in the lawsuit was what happened after Brown made a traffic stop on Lehman in 2011. Lehman claimed that without provocation he was taken to the ground by Brown and then stomped and kicked by both officers, who, according to the lawsuit, did not immediately take Lehman to the hospital after he complained of chest pains and difficulty breathing.

In their response, the officers said that Lehman resisted arrest and they "acted in good faith, with probable cause, and without malice."

As a result of the incident, charges were filed against Lehman in Athens County Municipal Court, including a charge of operating a vehicle under the influence. The OVI charge was dismissed, and a resisting arrest charge was reduced to disorderly conduct. Lehman was fined $150 and court costs, with the fine suspended. A charge of driving left of center was reduced to driving an unsafe vehicle, and Lehman was fined $75 and costs.

Athens attorney Sky Pettey represents Lehman, but declined to comment on the settlement agreement in the federal case.

"I can't comment on a settlement that is not finalized," Pettey said.

Covert retired from the Nelsonville Police Department, and now works for the Hocking County Sheriff's Office. Brown also works for the sheriff's office.

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