Woman suing Vail cops for alleged brutality | VailDaily.com
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Woman suing Vail cops for alleged brutality

Police acted in 'self-defense' and used 'reasonable force,' according to court document

VAIL ” A woman who has accused Vail police officers of injuring her shoulder, threatening to shoot her dog and entering her home illegally is suing the town of Vail and three members of the Vail Police Department.

Diana Johnson, of Vail, was 73 years old when two Vail police officers illegally entered her home in 2006 and twisted back her arm as she walked away from them, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Colorado in March.

The town of Vail, Officers James Applegate and Jessica Deery and Detective Sgt. Craig Bettis are named as defendants in the lawsuit, which contends Johnson’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated.

“This is incredible that they would do this to a 73-year-old lady with no probable cause whatsoever,” said Brice Tondre, a Denver-based civil rights attorney representing Johnson.

Bettis said in a voice message that he will be out of the office until next week, so he could not be reached for comment. Applegate, Deery ” also known as Jessica Mayes, authorities said ” and Johnson also did not return telephone messages requesting comment.

Chief Dwight Henninger said the lawsuit was pending so he would not comment, but he said Bettis, Applegate and Mayes have been working since the incident.

Johnson’s son Gino Caranelli called police around 11:30 a.m. on March 10, 2006 after an argument with Johnson and immediately hung up.

Caranelli, “for whatever reason, dialed 911 and hung up,” Tondre said.

Applegate and Deery, who was in training, left for Johnson’s West Vail home as a police dispatcher called back twice and was told “there’s no problem,” according to Tondre and the lawsuit.

The dispatch center told the officers the incident was a “verbal dispute between a mother and son, that there was no claim of an injury and no weapons were involved,” the lawsuit says.

Johnson heard a knock at her door and saw the officers, the lawsuit says. She opened the door to let her dog out, but Applegate and Deery shut the door until Johnson told them the dog was not vicious.

She let her dog out and when it came back, the officers followed it inside without asking Johnson’s permission. Johnson did not know her son had called police at the time, the lawsuit says.

“[Officers’] search of the house and seizure of Johnson was without probable cause and without reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed,” the lawsuit says.

According to the lawsuit, Johnson had been repairing her home, and she told the officers she was having “huge problems” with her building contractor. She then asked them to leave and turned around. Applegate saw a screwdriver in her hand, and without asking her to put it down, he and Deery tore Johnson’s rotator cuff when they grabbed Johnson’s arm, twisted it behind her back, took the screwdriver and knocked her on the floor, the lawsuit says.

Caranelli came down some stairs with the dog, and Applegate told him to stop and to put down the phone he was using to call 911. Applegate threw Caranelli to the floor and handcuffed him when he refused, the lawsuit says.

“Thinking that Officer Applegate was being playful, the dog joined in at which point Officer Applegate pulled his pistol and threatened to shoot the dog,” the lawsuit says. Johnson’s other son took the dog upstairs, according to the lawsuit.

Deery then grabbed Johnson’s injured arm causing further pain and injury to her shoulder and handcuffed her, the lawsuit says.

Bettis was supervising the officers at the time and failed to intervene, according to Tondre and the lawsuit. The lawsuit also accuses the town of Vail of failing to properly train and supervise its officers in legal searches.

Police say Johnson was holding the screwdriver in an “aggressive manner” and deny that she turned her back to them, according to a court document filed by Denver-based attorney Eric Ziporin, who is representing Vail police and the town.

Ziporin did not return a telephone message left after business hours Wednesday night.

According to the document, Applegate asked Johnson to give him the screwdriver as he reached for it at the same time. Applegate grabbed her arm and was “eventually” able to pull the screwdriver out of Johnson’s hand, the document says.

In the court document, Vail police deny that Applegate and Deery entered Johnson’s home without Johnson’s permission and other allegations.

Nor did Applegate threaten to shoot her dog, tell Caranelli to put down the phone or throw Caranelli to the floor, the document says.

Police acted in self-defense and any injuries that Johnson may have gotten were her fault, the document says.

“Defendants’ actions were at all times conducted in good faith and without intent to injure or deprive [Johnson] of her civil rights,” the document says.

Johnson was arrested and held at Vail Police Department, but felony and misdemeanor charges against her were dismissed last year when she pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct, Tondre said.

Johnson paid $15,000 in medical bills, including surgery, according to Tondre and the lawsuit. She also lost money when she had to take time off from her job as a ski instructor, Tondre said.

She is not seeking a specific amount of money, but Tondre said there is no limit to the amount of money a jury can award people in a civil rights violation.

Bettis, Applegate and Deery will give their version of events at a deposition scheduled in August, Tondre said.

Judge Lewis Babcock has scheduled a jury trial for Nov. 2, 2009, according to court documents. The lawsuit is subject to legal challenges until it goes to trial, or it could be settled before then, Tondre said.

Staff Writer Steve Lynn can be reached at 970-748-2931 or slynn@vaildaily.com.


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