Lake Stevens pays couple $100,000 after police force way into home
Lake Stevens has agreed to pay $100,000 to a young couple after two officers, without a warrant, forced their way into their home and forcibly arrested the man over a day-old traffic confrontation.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Just before Lake Stevens police Officers Steve Warbis and James Wellington forced their way into the home of Brandon Fenter and roughly arrested him one night in June 2011, Warbis reportedly asked, “Remember me?”
No doubt, Fenter will.
The city paid Fenter and his wife $100,000 last week to settle a federal civil-rights lawsuit he filed over the incident.
The lawsuit alleged that Warbis and Wellington had no warrant and could not meet any of the other criteria that could justify entering Fenter’s property without one, such as responding to an emergency. Fenter was charged with reckless driving after his arrest, but the charge was later dropped.
According to the lawsuit, Fenter and his wife had first encountered Warbis the day before his arrest while the couple were driving in Marysville. Fenter claims that Warbis leapt into the roadway and waved him down.
Warbis reportedly identified himself as a police officer and told Fenter that he was driving recklessly and that he would be “issuing him a traffic citation in the mail.” The lawsuit says Warbis did not look at Fenter’s license or registration and noted that he was allowed to continue on his way.
Fenter said that Warbis was off-duty, in civilian clothes and walking with his family “on the wrong side of the road.”
The lawsuit also claimed that Warbis had no jurisdiction in Marysville nor cause to have pulled Fenter over.
The next evening, according to the suit, the 27-year-old Fenter; his wife, Tiffany, 26; their young daughter; and Fenter’s brother, Cody, were sitting down to dinner in the rear of their Lake Stevens home. Fenter looked outside and noticed someone crouching and peering through the slats of a 6-foot cedar fence that surrounds his backyard.
The two men stood, and Fenter says he recognized Warbis, accompanied by Wellington. Both men were armed and wearing their police uniforms, the suit says.
It was at that point that Warbis reportedly asked, “Remember me?”
“Defendants Warbis and Wellington began to threaten and use explicit language at Mr. Fenter and his family, demanding that he come out of his house to be arrested,” the lawsuit said.
When he didn’t comply, the officers kicked a gate off its hinges and pushed their way into the home, “shoving Mr. Fenter violently and forcefully handcuffing him, causing injuries,” the suit claims.
The lawsuit says Fenter has no criminal history and had never been arrested before. According to his attorney Justin Monro, Fenter’s father is a detective for Snohomish County.
The lawsuit said the officers manhandled the handcuffed Fenter to a patrol car and took him to the Marysville Jail. He was charged with reckless driving, and he hired an attorney. The charge was dismissed, according to the lawsuit.
The department upheld the officers’ actions, and the city refused an initial offer to settle.
The lawsuit was filed in December in U.S. District Court in Seattle. Given that civil-rights lawsuits often take years to resolve, the Fenter lawsuit was dealt with relatively quickly.
City Administrator Jan Berg said the city and its insurer “entered into mitigation last month” and agreed to settle the case for $100,000.
“Because litigation is a drain on taxpayer resources, the city decided to resolve this matter at the earliest stage possible to limit resources expended on the case,” she said. “Settlement of this matter was the best resolution for all parties involved.”
Berg said Warbis and Wellington remain members of the Lake Stevens Police Department.
Acting Police Chief Dan Lorentzen did not return telephone messages left at his office.
Mike Carter: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-3706.