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March 04, 2011 9:02 am

Police suit: $30,001 awarded to Wachsmuth

Written by CJ Baker

A federal jury has awarded $30,001 to Tricia Wachsmuth in her civil rights lawsuit against the Powell Police Deparment, finding that officers unsafely deployed a flashbang and used her as a human shield while executing a search warrant at her home two years ago.

The jury rejected Wachsmuth's claims that the officers didn't knock and announce their presence and immediately entered the East North Street home. The jury determined police knocked, announced, and waited a reasonable amount of time before ramming open the door and that their plan to enter was constitutional.

The jury found Sgt. Mike Chretien violated Wachsmuth's civil rights for ordering her to go down the stairs "with guns" as a human shield, and that Sgt. Roy Eckerdt violated her civil rights for not stopping Chretien. They also found that before deploying the flashbang, Sgt. Alan Kent and Officer Matt McCaslin failed to look into room in a manner that would determine the device would not risk injury.

The jury cleared the city of Powell, Police Chief Tim Feathers and the seven other officers who participated in the raid and who were named in the suit.

The panel awarded $1 for emotional pain and mental anguish and $30,000 for medical costs; Wachsmuth had sought $500,000 and $90,000, respectively.

The presiding juror said their findings were based specifically on the jury instructions given to them and also said they had some problems with how the questions were worded.

Judge Alan Johnson accepted their  verdict, and now will take their findings under consideration and issue a judgement. The Tribune will provide much more detail in Tuesday's edition.

The jurors reached their verdict around 10:30 a.m. this (Friday) morning.

The eight-member jury failed to reach a verdict during a full day of deliberations yesterday (Thursday), calling it a night around 7:45 p.m. They have been mulling the case since early Wednesday afternoon, at the conclusion of closing arguments (previous story here).

Jurors asked several questions of Judge Johnson over the last couple days, who, in collaboration with the attorneys in the case, has issued further instructions to answer their inquires.

There is no time limit on how long a jury may deliberate; the general rule is "as long as it takes," though if the panel deadlocks and can not reach a unanimous verdict after extensive deliberations, a mistrial may be declared.

The verdict form contains 18 questions for the jury to answer. The first seven questions ask if Wachsmuth's rights were violated and if so, by which officers. They also ask if she suffered damages as a result of those violations, and if so, how much money is she due?

The last 11 questions on the form deal with questions of fact. They have been paraphrased below:

1) Did Sgt. Mike Chretien plan to unconstitutionally execute the warrant?
2) Did Police Chief Tim Feathers approve an unconstitutional plan?
3) Were the officers who served the warrant that night briefed on an unconstitutional plan?
4) If so, did the officers fail to object to the unconstitutional plan?
5) If so, which officers failed to object?
6) Did Officer Kirk Chapman knock and announce the Powell Police Department's presence?
7) Did the entry team wait a reasonable amount of time before entering the home?
8) Did Sgt. Alan Kent and Officer Matt McCaslin look into the master bedroom window before flashbang in a manner that the device would not risk injury?
9) Did Sgt. Chretien order Wachsmuth to go downstairs with guns to be used as a human shield?
10) Did the officers in the house fail to stop Sgt. Chretien from doing that?
11) If so, which officers failed to stop him?

The jury does not have to answer all of the questions, depending on what they find. For example, if jurors find no constitutional violations took place, they only have to answer the first one as "no."

Editor's note: This version corrects what the jury said about their decision, clarifying their decision was based specifically on the given instructions, not the questions' wording.

36 comments

  • Comment Link March 04, 2011 12:54 pm posted by Salty Dawg

    How do you spell K-A-N-G-A-R-O-O...?

  • Comment Link March 04, 2011 1:27 pm posted by Hoover

    WOW...3 Stgs guilty of violation of the Constitional rights rights...Chief what ya gonna do now??????where is the FBI???They will be a knocking.....SLAM DUNK

  • Comment Link March 04, 2011 1:42 pm posted by Protected and hidden for fear of reconcilation

    I think the police have been overstepping their bounds since Police Chief John Cox left the community. I know a lot of the police personally and they may be very genuinely nice in their personal life, but as soon as they step behind the badge, their "Gestapo-like" intentions come out. I have been pulled over and harassed for having music too loud for their tastes, but yet when I quoted the statute indicating I was fully within my legal rights, they just yelled back that I better turn it down or I'm going to jail. Other times when pulled over, I have been cussed at and verbally abused. Finally someone stood up to them. I am in no way supporting the actions of the marijuana grower, but she did the right thing in standing up to them. The police in Powell just need to realize they work for us with our tax dollars. I don't mind paying for safety and peace of mind, but I refuse to pay to be harassed.

  • Comment Link March 04, 2011 2:24 pm posted by Timekeeper

    TIIIIIICCCCCCC

    TOOOOOCCCCCKKKKKK

    Time for Feathers to go

  • Comment Link March 04, 2011 2:31 pm posted by tom donarski

    What a JOKe!!!!!!continue to make Powell residents and surronding areas look like a communist city....

  • Comment Link March 04, 2011 3:08 pm posted by a juror

    Friend CJ has misspoken, what we said was that we did NOT agree with the way some questions were phrased and that our answers were based solely on the wording in the instructions given and not in the questions phrasings.

  • Comment Link March 04, 2011 3:18 pm posted by Travis Smith

    Where did they learn human shield technique, from the Taliban?

  • Comment Link March 04, 2011 3:52 pm posted by Bill

    Congratulations, that is in fact the correct spelling of kangaroo. However, this verdict spells J-U-S-T-I-C-E and there was nothing kangaroo about this court.

    Mike Chretien, Roy Eckerdt, Alan Kent, and Matt McCaslin must be fired and barred from any future involvement in law enforcement!!! Do we really want officers in this country who are willing to use a woman as a human shield and throw flashbangs on to beds without looking? I sure do not.

  • Comment Link March 04, 2011 4:01 pm posted by clipstein

    Wait till you get raided by mistake and no apology!!!!!! You wonder why I have a bad attitude?????? besides the city manager is over the police dept...... mr. mayor and crew are over the city manager........ get the whole bunch and lets start over....... it might help if we could read the truth

  • Comment Link March 04, 2011 4:25 pm posted by Leif Green

    I hope all officers involved get fired!

  • Comment Link March 04, 2011 7:56 pm posted by Real Cost to include attorney fees

    What is the real dollar amount to incldue attorney fees???? Overtime Costs to the City for 3 weeks??

    I am guessin u are looking at well over $150,000 in att. fees for over a 18 month period and expert witness costs for the plaintiff all which are awarded in addition to the $30,001 ,,,tell the full story.....

  • Comment Link March 04, 2011 10:03 pm posted by Someone that cares

    You know we as a public wont ever know exactly what happened in the house. No one has mentioned the lies that the plaintiff was caught in. I know all of these officers on a professional and personal level and I know in my mind they did what they felt was correct for the situation. I applaud the police department. I know they are there if I need them. Maybe some of you that are complaining dont obey the law, or have something to hide. Stop the finger pointing and take a look at yourself before you cast blame. It is time that we support those that serve and protect us. THANK YOU Powell PD for all you do.

  • Comment Link March 04, 2011 10:27 pm posted by Sad for Powell PD

    The jury got it right with one exception...MCCasllin and WHY should Feathers get a pass?

    Feathers will blame his SGTS. and Officer McCasslin and let them take the heat,,,,,he should resign......Matt is a good cop,,cut him slack,,,,as for the SGTS. they should know better they are the upper management are't they????,,,,PD REHAB is needed in the worst way!!

  • Comment Link March 05, 2011 8:08 am posted by Mr. 4570

    For this jury to come to these conclusions, the actions of these officers are so far beyond acceptable that some heads need to roll. You have not seen the end of this. Not only did these officers, who we are supposed to trust, completely go over the top and put people in danger that night, they engaged in a 2-year conspiracy to concoct evidence, hide evidence and several of these so-called "public servants" lied like hell on the stand. The next story you will be reading is about the FBI investigation into what is REALLY scary here, that our cops will do whatever necessary to cover their corruption including witness tampering and perjury.

    I am an ex-police officer and this makes me sick. The people of Powell and the people of Wyoming deserve better.

  • Comment Link March 05, 2011 8:53 am posted by lifetime resident 60+

    It's time to have a poll!

    Rate our police Chief on a scale of
    1 - 10
    Starting with 0

    My guess is that a 30 percent return on the poll will show an average of 2.

    One point for name recognition
    One point for being the worst Police
    Chief Powell ever had.

    Eight points for being the most
    respected and admired Chief
    Powell ever had.

  • Comment Link March 05, 2011 9:21 am posted by lisa

    glad i do not live in powell anymore but then again the powell cops are no differnt than the basin and worland cops

  • Comment Link March 05, 2011 12:47 pm posted by concerned citazen

    Sad for PD- Why should McCaslin get a break when he was one of the officers that threw the flashbang and was not aware of where it would land? This is unprofessional and unacceptable. Feathers should not get a pass because he was the head of the operation. He should resign or get terminated.

  • Comment Link March 05, 2011 5:34 pm posted by Matthew Thomas

    Chief Feathers was at home off duty with his family at the time this took place yes he approved what happened but he had no part in it, everyone needs to to take a chill pill and forget about steve oliver let it go people seriously. The jury stated their findings and Tim Feathers was found innocent others might get fired but let it go i bet 99 percent of you would have made the same decision Chief Feathers did if you were in his shoes

  • Comment Link March 05, 2011 7:51 pm posted by Mr. 4570

    Matthew Thomas - you lose complete credibility when you say "yes he approved but he had nothing to do with it." Do you see the irony in that statement? Feathers gets paid more as chief to MAKE SURE THIS STUFF NEVER HAPPENS! That is why he is the chief. Ultimately, he is responsible whether you and Feathers likes it or not. That is how the world works. If he didn't want the responsibility, he shouldn't be the chief or get paid what he is paid.

  • Comment Link March 05, 2011 9:37 pm posted by Just Me

    Mr. 4570 what officer or officers lied, committed perjury, hid evidence, concocted evidence or tampered with witnesses? Do you have actual proof of the above mentioned accusations? And if so, feel free to put it in print so we can all see it. And as for the FBI getting involved.........SERIOUSLY???

  • Comment Link March 05, 2011 10:20 pm posted by Bill

    I hope all the officers involved are charged criminally for their egregious actions that night. They violated the constitution and need to pay accordingly. If any of the citizens of Powell violated the law the way the Powell Police did they would form a SWAT team and start knocking down doors.

    People seem to be losing sight of the fact that the Powell Police Department broke the law!!! For all of you who say that the Wachsmuth's broke the law and got what they deserved what do you feel the Powell PD deserves for breaking the law? Are they above the law? You say, "don't break the law and your don't have to worry about the consequences." Well let me say it again, the officers of the Powell PD broke the law!!!!! Whats more, they broke a law explicitly established as an amendment to the constitution in 1791!! These officers deserve to be put in prison for violating the trust of the people of Powell and violating the constitution of the United States.

  • Comment Link March 05, 2011 10:41 pm posted by Tomas Matthew

    Matthew Thomas you are clueless...Chiefs have liability for those they hire and fire,,,,also those they retain,,even when sitting at home while the grunts to the dirty work,,,,,,so CHEIF will you now engage in negligent retention as well?????3 Stgs and violations of civil rights...think hard now,,,its not that difficult to figure out. Oh by the way Oliver has nothing to do with poor decision making..show some respect please.

  • Comment Link March 05, 2011 10:49 pm posted by Bill

    Dear Powell Tribune/CJ

    Throughout this process all the news stories in the Powell Tribune related to this case have openly pointed out Bret Wachsmuth's mental health needs. It came out in testimony that Bret Wachsmuth's mental heath state was a reason for the actions of the Powell PD that night. Considering this, I hope that you are willing to state in the tribune on Tuesday other important points that came out in testimony. For instance, will you cover officer Bret Lara's testimony regarding his own battles with depression and anxiety? Will you print his own testimony stating that he takes medication for those mental health needs? Mental health issues that are not dissimilar to Bret Wachsmuth's. Will you point out the fact that officer Lara is capable of being a member of the Powell Police Department despite his mental health issues? That he was capable of participating in the dynamic entry to the Wachsmuth's home despite similar mental health issues as the suspect being sought?

    Why did the Powell PD feel Bret Wachsmuth was so dangerous because of his mental health issues and the fact that he had guns yet they had no concerns about giving officer Bret Lara a gun and allowing him to enter a high stress, chaotic situation? All these details are in the public record as they were directly stated by officer Bret Lara in testimony. Because of this I am assuming you will have no problems posting this comment. If I have misstated any information please feel free to contact me so I can make the necessary changes.

  • Comment Link March 06, 2011 8:48 am posted by Anonymous Juror

    I was a member of the jury and feel we came to the best conclusions that we could. Remember there are 8 jurors and a unanomous decision is reguired. The Wachsmuths have some responsibility as if they hadn't been breaking the law by growing pot this wouldn't have happened. Following the jury instructions we couldn't find Chief Feathers guilty of anything.

  • Comment Link March 06, 2011 2:32 pm posted by clipstein

    Where is the mayor and crew?????? where is the city manager??????? where is Josh????? Where all the people who supported what has happened to this town?????? Now that the games are over and the town is broke no comments??? Hmmmmmmmm makes one wonder!!!!!!!!! Police dept., pool, fiber, plaza taxpayer, and how much more..... Oops what is the difference between gas and trees????? One you get fired and the other you dont??????

  • Comment Link March 06, 2011 4:19 pm posted by Paul York

    Chief Feathers approved the operation and as head of the department, he should have planned it out in a responsible manor to ensure that they would not be breaking the citizens rights. Therefore, he is responsible for the incident. When something like this occurs, people reflect on the people who are the at the head of the department because they should have trained the officers how to react in certain instances....What happened to Steve Oliver was wrong so some people are never going to drop the situation.

  • Comment Link March 06, 2011 4:27 pm posted by Paul York

    Matt Thomas-->The only 99 percent that you are talking about are ignorant. The plaintiff's were remorseful for what they had done. The police had no remorse for invading their rights or emotionally damaging the woman for life. In 15 states, the use of medical marijuana is legal. A marijuana card possessor can have up to 12 immature plants. The police occurring the crime against these citizens is far more worse than growing two plants.

  • Comment Link March 07, 2011 8:03 am posted by TB

    From reading these comments,it appears someone needs to go...just who is the question.Instead of the usual **** running downhill,how about it runs uphill for a change.Powell people need to take a stand against what is going on around this town,before it gets out of hand with macho attitudes and fat heads.Which is exactly what will happen if the local law gets away with this fiasco.Look in the mirror people,it's up to you all to make a difference,or suffer the consequences later on.

  • Comment Link March 07, 2011 11:04 am posted by Frank White

    People are quick to condemn the victims who are the Wachsmuths. In the absence of exciting police chases and high crime these city employees overact with a chance to save, who? From what? Marijuana, really thousands of people in surrounding states are legally using it.
    Put the City Employees to good use and have then write tickets to people speeding in school zones. Now that is protecting the innocent from harm and serving the public's interest.
    Just wait till Mead signs into law an action that takes away your constitutional right to refuse, coming home from the swimming pool, eyes are red, your getting tested, no you refuse...

  • Comment Link March 07, 2011 12:28 pm posted by Thanks

    Anon Juror..

    Thank you for your service,,,I am sure it was tough to sit and listen to it all. You did everything right. The system worked. I only disagree agree on one point... you say that this would not have happen if the people would not have broken the law. People break the law all over our country and police handle it without incident thousands of times a day because they do it the right way. When they don't do it the right way then we have these measures in place to hold them accountable , the checks and balances of our system. Again thank you for your service.

  • Comment Link March 07, 2011 11:07 pm posted by Mr. 4570

    Just Me, I am so glad you asked for proof of the points I raised! I would like to see them in print as well. All of the things I mentioned were explicitly raised in testimony in the trial. Unfortunately, none of these points that cast the PD in a negative light were printed in the stories published by the tribune. So, I will be more than happy to give you examples, but, it would certainly be better if the paper published them first. So, let's wait and see if Tuesday's paper prints a more objective story. If the tribune does their job and reports objectively there will be no need for me to provide you proof.

  • Comment Link March 08, 2011 5:27 am posted by joe blow

    POWER....CONTROL.....Those words sound familiar. Human nature dictates that if money or status is involved those with status will prevail... Take a good look at Steve, cause its seems to be repetitive. Let some one else take the fall for your actions or inactions Chief, your good at it. Too bad the chief doesn't practice what he PREACHES in the good book..

  • Comment Link March 08, 2011 5:52 am posted by jim

    When will you people learn.... You can't win a battle from the sidelines. This chief should be an elected official, along with the other members of the hypocracy. Steve O was one that would give you the shirt off his back. Would the chief? If you really want action petition it...

  • Comment Link March 08, 2011 7:23 pm posted by Just Me

    Mr. 4570 the Tuesday edition has been printed so please show us the proof that you say you have that the Powell officers lied, committed perjury, tampered with witnesses, hid evidence and concocted evidence.

  • Comment Link April 08, 2011 7:50 am posted by Dave Stevens

    Police are doing a great job.

  • Comment Link August 08, 2012 2:51 am posted by OVER IT

    The Powell POLICE ARE A JOKE. Feathers needs to go and for the life of me I cant understand how or why he is still here. He is a lazy POS who doesnt know how to run his department. Of course he was at home the night the raid happened. Why would he have been there? If your not there you cant get into trouble for taking part. Powell used to have good cops and now look at them. I know im posting this late but I cant stand the way citizens of powell are treated by these power hungry, pig headed, little man sindrome officers. They do not have our best intrests in mind! People need to stand up. And it isnt just this case that they acted like this on. Its with every person they pull over or what ever. Its time for a change. They get away with to much ****!

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