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Police suit: $30,001 awarded to Wachsmuth

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.

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