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November 26, 2014

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Settlement of lawsuit considered

Another case alleging abuse by Henderson Police officers could be settled by the City Council tonight.

The council is to vote on a proposal to pay Henderson resident Joe Gaudreau $60,000 to settle a federal lawsuit in which he claims two officers violated his civil rights during an arrest on Aug. 1, 2001.

Gaudreau suffered a broken jaw, a fractured skull and lost some teeth that day, the lawsuit says.

The suit claimed the injuries happened when Officer Ryan Duncan grabbed Gaudreau by the hair and slammed him to the ground. Officer John Bellow was accused of helping Duncan injure Gaudreau.

The city countered that the officers did nothing wrong and said Gaudreau injured himself when he was hitting the police vehicle with his face, Gaudreau's attorney Cal Potter said.

Police came into contact with Gaudreau on Aug. 1 after Gaudreau called police because of a domestic dispute with his girlfriend, Potter said, adding that Gaudreau was drunk during the incident.

According to the police report of the incident, when Duncan went to handcuff Gaudreau, he resisted, which resulted in the two wrestling on the ground. Duncan then pepper sprayed Gaudreau and handcuffed him.

Once the officers brought Gaudreau to their police car, Gaudreau head-butted the car, and then was taken to the ground when the officers tried to stop him. Gaudreau was pepper sprayed again to stop him from fighting with the officers, the police report said.

The $60,000 settlement will cover Gaudreau's medical bills, plus provide money for pain and suffering and future medical expenses, Potter said.

Potter said the officers involved were not fired or otherwise disciplined.

Officer Todd Rasmussen, a police spokesman, said the department will not comment on the matter because the lawsuit is not settled. But he said both Duncan and Bellow are still with Henderson Police.

Duncan, who joined the department 12 years ago, is now a sergeant. Bellow has been an officer for six years, Rasmussen said.

Andrew Urban, an assistant city attorney, said the settlement does not assign blame to the city or police. He said the recommendation to settle the case for $60,000 is due largely to the expectation that taking the case to court would cost the city $100,000.

Mayor Jim Gibson said Monday that he hasn't decided whether to support the settlement.

"I've got to be convinced that the actions of our police department were not defensible," Gibson said.

If approved, this would be the second settlement this summer of a case alleging Henderson police were abusive.

In June, the council paid $224,000 to Jody Higgins to settle her federal lawsuit in which she alleged police pepper-sprayed her while she was handcuffed and then left her without medical attention for so long that she has permanent eye damage.

Police Chief Michael Mayberry could not be reached for comment Monday.

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