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Huntington settles ‘leg sweep’ lawsuit

January 2, 2019

HUNTINGTON — The city of Huntington has settled a lawsuit questioning the use of a leg-sweep maneuver used by a Huntington police officer while apprehending a suspect in 2015.

The lawsuit, filed in 2017 on behalf of Christopher James Hafner against Officer Dakota Dishman and the city of Huntington, had alleged assault, battery and negligence against the officer and negligent hiring, retention and supervision practices by the city of Huntington.

A video recording of the incident was posted in August 2017 by Weston Robertson Law and has been seen more than 2.2 million times with thousands of comments from viewers giving opinions about whether excessive force was used.

It appears to show Dishman using a leg-sweep maneuver while attempting to detain Hafner, causing Hafner to hit his head on the pavement. Hafner later reached a plea deal in the case and admitted his guilt to disorderly conduct. Obstruction and public intoxication charges were later dismissed.

According to Huntington attorney Connor Robertson, the city of Huntington settled the case in December for $17,500. Charges against Dishman were dismissed prior to the settlement.

City Attorney Scott Damron said the city believes the officer acted appropriately in the situation, but the decision was made to settle the case rather than incur the expense of defending the lawsuit.

“As is often the case, it was more economical to settle a case for an amount that would be less than the ultimate cost to defend,” he said. “The settlement agreement states that the city does not admit liability, so the payment of settlement funds does not express a concession of fault on the part of the city or the police officer involved.”

Huntington attorney Steve Nord represented the city in the case.

According to the complaint filed in the Southern District of West Virginia, on Nov. 4, 2015, the officer had responded to a disturbance in an alley in the 600 block of 5th Avenue in Huntington involving a call about alleged public intoxication.

As the video begins, a man is seen standing in the middle of the alley while drinking from a tall can wrapped in a white plastic bag.

The officer enters the picture, walking behind the man and pulling the man’s arms behind his back as he attempts to finish the drink. As the officer attempts to place him into handcuffs, the man drops his drink and pulls away from the officer with his arms extended. He struggles to keep his balance, but the officer stands firm. The officer tells the man to stop moving.

The man was speaking to the officer while still facing away and twists his arms, appearing to attempt to turn toward the officer.

The officer then takes his left leg and swipes the man’s feet out from beneath him. The officer did not hold up the man’s upper body, and the suspect falls and hits his head on the street before landing face-down on the uneven brick pavement. A loud thump is heard as he makes contact with the ground.

The officer continues to put the man in handcuffs and the man is seen barely moving after hitting his head.

Several spectators witnessed the events, and one man says, “He hit his head pretty hard,” before the officer says, “I need an EMS,” and presses a button on his radio at the end of the video.

This is the second lawsuit involving Huntington police officers to reach a settlement in about 18 months. In 2017, the city of Huntington and Cabell County 911 agreed to pay the family of 66-year-old Annie Earle $370,000. Former Officer Joshua Nield was accused of grabbing Earle and lifting her into the air, eventually laying his full weight on her body. The slam fractured her ribs and compressed her thorax, resulting in a punctured heart and her death.

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.

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