City of Tulsa settles excessive force lawsuit involving pepper-ball launcher

TULSA -- The city of Tulsa has settled an excessive force lawsuit filed by a man who was shot dozens of times with a pepper-ball launcher by Tulsa police.

According to court documents filed Thursday, the city agreed to a $25,000 settlement over claims against Sgt. Christopher Witt and Officer Tina Kennemer.

In July of 2010, 54-year-old Richard Smith was staying at the Tudor House Inn near Admiral and N. Sheridan Ave.

According to his attorney he was staying past his welcome, about an hour late to check out.

The hotel staff called police and officers found him, naked and not responding.
    
"For some apparent reason they thought this older, naked, passed out gentlemen was potentially dangerous," said Smith's attorney, Donald Smolen II.

"He was hit in the head at one point, he was hit in his genitals at one point," said Smolen.

Smolen says the only attempt police made to get Smith out of the hotel room was using a pepper gun.

"The first officer that arrived could have gone in, handcuffed the gentlemen if he thought he needed to and Mr. Smith not even know that he had been handcuffed," said Smolen.

Smith was hit with anywhere from 50 to 70 pepper balls.  According to the city's legal department, it was his response or lack of, that prompted the assault.

"This individual was so intoxicated he was not demonstrating any response at all to the pepper balls," said Gerald Bender, litigation manager for the City of Tulsa.

Bender says officers believed Smith could have been under the influence of mind-altering drugs or even armed.

"Totally naked, on the bed, covered in feces, the room was covered in feces, it was just a bad circumstance," said Bender.

Bender says settling is not admission of wrongdoing, but it made sense financially.

"We continue to contend that the officers were in fact acting in the course and scope of their job and the force that they used was reasonable," said Bender.

Smith's attorney says they would have preferred to go to court for more money but say settling was the only way they would actually be paid.

"We could have gone and gotten a multi-million dollar verdict against these two officers and the net effect would have been the client would have obtained zero dollars," said Smolen.

2News was unable to track down Smith to hear from him in person.  He has no working phone number and his last known address is the Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless.

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