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The lawsuit was filed Friday afternoon January 18th in U.S. District Court against UHP Trooper John Gardner, who pulled Jared Massey over for speeding on September 14th, 2007 on U.S. 40 near Vernal. It accuses him of excessive force and seeks an unnamed amount in damages. No other person or agency is named in the suit.
In a November 27th letter filed with the lawsuit, Massey called for Gardner to be "justly punished" by the UHP. "I also request that those who have participated in the cover-up of this misconduct to be disciplined," he wrote, "and that other actions be taken to assure the public that this type of abuse by a highway patrol officer will not be allowed to occur and will not be covered up if it does occur in the future." This implies one of the reasons he filed the suit is because he fears that John Gardner will be let off the hook altogether. Gardner was relieved of duty for a while, but it was a paid absence.
Alone amongst the five local media outlets previously identified, the Deseret Morning News revealed considerable detail about the suit documents.
"There was no need for Gardner to Taser Massey because Massey was non-violent, not threatening in any way, not fleeing and not resisting arrest," the lawsuit states. Here's an excerpt from the Deseret News report further describing the contents of the document.
In a version of the infamous traffic stop described in court papers, Massey disagreed that he was speeding, but wound up with a citation anyway. He refused to sign it because he wanted to see the speed limit sign. "Signing a citation is not required under Utah law," Massey's lawyer Robert Sykes wrote in the lawsuit. "Gardner could have left the citation with Massey with the exact same effect as having Massey sign it."
Instead, Massey was ordered to exit to the vehicle, "as if to allow Massey to show him what he meant," the lawsuit said. Gardner walked to his cruiser as Massey left his SUV. "Gardner never advised Massey, prior to Massey's exiting the vehicle, that he was under arrest, or that Gardner intended to put Massey under arrest after he exited the vehicle," Sykes wrote. "After Massey exited the vehicle, he walked calmly toward the officer's cruiser, pointing to the sign down the road with his left hand, and stating that he did not think he had been speeding prior to the 40 mph sign. While Massey was pointing forward with his left hand, his right hand was at his side, with the thumb hooked inside of his right pant pocket, but the right hand outside the pocket."
The lawsuit accuses Gardner of "belligerently" demanding that Massey turn around and put his hands behind his back. On the dash-cam tape, Massey is heard asking "what's wrong with you?" As he walked back toward his SUV, Massey was Tasered. He shrieks and then falls back onto the roadway. "This stunned Massey, who fell hard on to the highway, screaming in pain, while Trooper Gardner tauntingly said 'hurts doesn't it?'" Sykes wrote. "Massey struck his head very hard on the pavement, which was due to the fact that the Taser causes a complete loss of the ability to maintain muscle control, causing an individual to drop like a free weight."
The lawsuit accuses Gardner of chiding him, then threatening Massey's wife if she didn't get back in the SUV. After he was handcuffed and arrested, Sykes accuses Gardner of lying to another officer who arrived on scene. "Trooper Gardner falsely told this officer that he warned Massey that he was going to be arrested and Tasered if he did not comply with his requests," he wrote.
UHP spokesman Jeff Nigbur told the Deseret Morning News they were not directly commenting on the lawsuit. UHP has consistently refused to make Trooper Gardner available for interviews. An initial Department of Public Safety investigation concluded that Gardner was justified in using the Taser; an internal affairs investigation is wrapping up. In addition, the Attorney General's office is pursuing its own investigation, although the integrity of the Attorney General's office may be somewhat compromised by the recent revelation that Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has been taking gifts from lobbyists (legal according to lax Utah law, but ethically questionable).
Massey declined to comment on the lawsuit when contacted by the Deseret Morning News on Friday January 18th. In past interviews, he has said he didn't want to sue but wanted the trooper's superiors to decide if the conduct was appropriate. In November 2007, frustrated that authorities were taking too long to investigate his complaint, Massey had the dash-cam recording of the traffic stop posted on YouTube in November. It became an international hit — being viewed more than 1 million times, and initially generated a wave of public sympathy for Massey. Earlier in January, Massey pleaded guilty at Uintah County Justice Court but paid a reduced fine of only $107 for simple speeding instead of the higher $232 fine for speeding in a construction zone (sounds like the judge may have also believed Trooper Gardner used excessive force and reduced the fine to reflect his thinking).
Commentary: There are two reasons I believe this suit is ill-timed and ill-advised. First, after the initial wave of outrage, public opinion has been slowly turning against Jared Massey. Comments posted to today's media reports, where applicable, show at least two-thirds or respondents now sympathize with the cop and Massey is now thought of as a spoiled brat.
Second, Massey filed this suit before the investigative process has been completed. Perhaps he wants to use the suit as a legal prod to promote more timely resolution, but he should have at least waited until the internal affairs investigation was completed. Granted, the investigation is proceeding way too slow, and should have been wrapped up months ago, but you allow the process to conclude before pursuing legal action.
As a result of his impetuousity, public opinion will turn even more pronouncedly against Massey as he will now be portrayed as an ambulance-chaser out for a fast buck and to prolong his proverbial "fifteen minutes of fame". And the perception won't be unjustified.