Attorneys representing the woman filed a claim with the city on Sept. 5 seeking more than $998,930.31. If the claim isn’t paid, the woman would be free to file a lawsuit against the city, but the filing of the claim does not necessarily mean a suit will follow.
“It’s simply a claim to preserve the right to file suit,” said Brian Hanify, an attorney with the Romsa Law Office in Cheyenne who is representing the woman. Hanify would not comment on whether a suit will ultimately be filed.
The woman says that early one morning in September 2011, then-Powell Police Officer Kirk B. Chapman came to her home under the auspices of checking on her well-being and sexually touched and rubbed against her. Chapman told investigators he was not at the woman’s house.
Chapman faces a felony charge of third-degree sexual assault in connection with the incident. The charge alleges he used his position of authority as a police officer to get the woman to submit to sexual contact. He has pleaded not guilty.
A trial had been set to begin Monday, but at the request of Chapman’s court-appointed attorney, District Court Judge Steven Cranfill recently agreed to postpone the trial until February. Deputy Park County Attorney Sam Krone objected to delaying the case, which was filed in July 2012.
“The state also has a right to a speedy trial,” Krone wrote in a filing.
However, Chapman attorney Bill Simpson of Cody said more time was needed to bring in a second defense attorney and to have an expert evaluate several issues in the case — including a recording of an interaction Chapman had with dispatch on the morning in question.
The woman told agents with the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation that Chapman had bumped his microphone while rubbing against her, though he told dispatch he’d accidentally hit the mic with his knee. A DCI agent said the audio record appeared to match the woman’s account.
Krone said at a preliminary hearing last year that it’s hard for the defense to “un-explain” how the woman knew Chapman had keyed his mic. Simpson had questioned the timeline given by the woman and her credibility — noting past mental health problems and that Chapman had arrested her roughly a year earlier on a misdemeanor alcohol-related charge.
Chapman had given the woman a ride home from a bar on the night in question. She said he returned and said he was going to help her relax but instead began sexually touching her. Chapman denies returning to her home after dropping her off.
In the claim with the city, Hanify and fellow attorney Matthew Romsa say the woman left her home hours after the incident and never again stayed there. The woman, who’d lived in the area for years, “moved from Powell within days due to her fear of police enforcement and a sense of insecurity in her own home,” the attorneys say in the claim.
The woman “still undergoes mental-health therapy as a result of the sexual assault by Officer Chapman and a general distrust of law enforcement,” the claim alleges.
The document claims $985,000 in compensatory damages, $11,630.31 for the cost of moving from Powell, $2,300 for counseling and an undetermined amount for future medical expenses.
“In addition, if claimant is required to file suit, claimant will claim punitive damages and attorneys’ fees,” the document from Hanify and Romsa says.
It alleges the woman has suffered emotional distress, personal injury and injuries to her constitutional and civil rights.
Hanify said the claim was filed with the city because Chapman was on duty at the time of the incident. The filing also alleges, among other contentions, that the city is liable because the Powell Police Department was negligent in retaining and supervising Chapman.
Powell City Attorney Sandra Kitchen said city staff forwarded the claim to its insurer, the Wyoming Local Government Liability Pool (LGLP), which will handle the claim.
“LGLP reviews claims that are received and they determine the appropriate action. If a claim is not resolved, then the claimant has the option of filing litigation,” Kitchen said.
Governmental claims — a prerequisite to suing a governmental entity — must be filed within two years of the incident in question and the woman’s claim came roughly a week before the deadline. Now that the claim has been filed, the woman has a year to decide whether to sue the city.
Chapman was suspended from his duties after the woman reported the allegations and an investigation began; Chapman resigned in November 2011 without ever returning to duty, Powell Police Chief Roy Eckerdt has said.
The police department’s internal investigation into the incident was separate from the criminal investigation conducted by DCI, and Eckerdt has said employee privacy laws prohibit him from discussing the conclusions of his department’s report.