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Originally published Tuesday, June 9, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Detained UW professor settles with Snohomish for $8,000

A University of Washington art professor who was frisked, handcuffed and detained by city of Snohomish police after she snapped photographs of power lines has settled a lawsuit she filed against the city for $8,000.

Seattle Times staff reporter

A University of Washington art professor who was frisked, handcuffed and detained by city of Snohomish police after she snapped photographs of power lines has settled a lawsuit she filed against the city for $8,000.

The settlement, announced Monday, was reached a year after U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour found that the three officers who detained 55-year-old Shirley Scheier "lacked a reasonable justification for their aggressive tactics in completely restraining Scheier's personal liberty."

City Manager Larry Bauman and Chief of Police John Turner said they stand behind the conduct of the officers, who receive federal money to protect Bonneville Power Administration facilities from potential terrorist attacks. They said the decision to settle was an effort to save taxpayer money. "The decision to settle was made by our insurance pool," Bauman said. "They determined that going to trial would have cost $30,000 and that an $8,000 settlement was a good business decision."

According to court documents, Scheier had driven to Snohomish to take photographs of power lines near a Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) substation on Oct. 17, 2005. The photos were for an academic project.

On her way home, she was pulled over by three officers, who questioned her vigorously about the photos, searched her car, handcuffed her and treated her "roughly," according to the lawsuit filed on Scheier's behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Scheier, who uses photographs of public land and structures in her artwork, claimed she was on public property when she snapped the photographs and there were no signs indicating that photography was not allowed.

Bauman said that when officers initially attempted to stop Scheier on Highway 9 she "refused to respond to police efforts to make a traffic stop." When she did stop, Bauman said, the three responding officers saw she had maps with big circles drawn around other power stations and facilities.

Turner said officers detained her while they ran her name through an FBI database. She then was released.

In rejecting a motion by the city for dismissal of the case, Coughenour found that Scheier's Fourth Amendment right to not be subject to unreasonable search and seizure had been violated by the officers. "Generalized, unsubstantiated suspicions of terrorist activity" do not give police the right to ignore people's constitutional rights, the judge said last year.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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