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Man sues town and police, says his civil rights were violated
Aug 5, 2013 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer
A Shoshoni man is suing the Town of Shoshoni and two members of the local police department for allegedly violating his civil rights while investigating a complaint about cats in 2012.
In the suit, 53-year-old L.J. Faith alleges that acting SPD chief Andy Rodriguez and officer G. Cruce used excessive force during their investigation and arrested Faith without probable cause.
A Taser reportedly was deployed multiple times during the incident, and both the officers and Faith were treated for injuries as a result. Faith's lawyers say he is legally blind but experiences "intermittent periods of partial sight."
According to SPD reports, Cruce and Rodriguez responded at about noon Aug. 30 to the 200 block of East Sixth Street in Shoshoni to follow up on an animal complaint involving Faith and a neighbor, Jordan Witener.
Witener reportedly had complained that several of Faith's cats were "running around and defecating" in Witener's yard. He also said the smell of cat waste coming from Faith's residence was overwhelming.
Rodriguez said Cruce went to Faith's residence, two homes to the west, while Rodriguez stayed with Witener.
"As Witener was showing me the outside of his residence where the cats had been defecating, I could smell a strong odor of cat urine," Rodriguez wrote in his report.
Rodriguez reportedly walked to Faith's residence when he heard Faith yelling and using profanity toward Cruce. According to Faith's lawsuit, Faith had been "attending to his yard" when Cruce approached him about the cat complaint.
"(Cruce said), in sum and substance, 'Well, I'm going to write you a ticket,'" the suit alleges. "Faith responded, in sum and substance, 'OK, well write me up one and then leave.'"
According to the lawsuit, Faith went inside his trailer for about 10 minutes, and when he emerged Cruce still was standing in his yard. At that point, Faith reportedly told Cruce to "write me a ticket or get the f*** out."
The suit states that Cruce responded by "sticking his chest out and saying, in sum and substance, 'Well I'm from De-troit.'" He then allegedly left the property and returned about five minutes later with Rodriguez.
Rodriguez in his report says he arrived at the scene to witness Faith "yelling at officer Cruce and cursing" while Cruce calmly asked about the number of cats at the residence.
"I noticed at least five different cats walking around in the yard," Rodriguez wrote. "There was a very strong odor of cat urine coming from the residence."
According to the lawsuit, Faith keeps a number of cats at his residence for companionship, and other people sometimes drop off cats for Faith to care for.
Rodriguez said Faith became more aggressive, throwing items around in the yard and cursing and yelling as the conversation with Cruce continued. Cruce reportedly warned Faith that he would be arrested for breach of peace if he continued to curse at the officers.
"Cruce pointed out that there were people standing outside that could hear his foul language," Rodriguez wrote. "At that point, I directed officer Cruce to issue Faith a citation for animal at large."
Faith reportedly used profanity and said he wouldn't pay the ticket, and Cruce told him he was under arrest for breach of peace.
"Faith turned away and then wrapped his arms around a wooden support post on the front deck," Rodriguez said.
According to Faith's lawsuit, Faith had said he would pay the citation when he had the money. The suit states that Cruce told Faith, "Oh hell no, you're going to jail," then walked toward the stairs to Faith's residence while Rodriguez moved closer to Faith "to block his exit."
"Believing he was about to be attacked, Faith then wrapped one arm around a post," the suit states.
In his report, Rodriguez says he and Cruce attempted to pull Faith away from the post but were unsuccessful.
"I asked officer Cruce if Faith was resisting him (and) he stated he was," Rodriguez wrote. "I took two moderate shoulder strikes from Faith to the right forearm."
Rodriguez said he attempted to shock Faith with a Taser by putting the device in contact with Faith's left arm. When the shock failed to have a "meaningful affect" on Faith, Rodriguez reportedly tried to deploy the Taser from a distance using the machine's extended probe. As he was attaching the probe cartridge, however, he said he fell backward, and the Taser discharged.
"A probe had penetrated my right index finger," Rodriguez wrote. "Officer Cruce told me he had been hit as well."
He said Cruce was bleeding from the top of his head near his hair line. Faith reportedly was facing Cruce at that point, and Cruce deployed his own Taser on Faith, who reportedly "dropped to the ground" in front of his porch.
Faith alleges he was trying to use his cell phone when he was shot with the Taser "multiple times." He says he went "completely blind" after the shock.
The officers reportedly handcuffed Faith, and all three men were seen by emergency medical personnel at the scene then treated at Riverton Memorial Hospital. Rodriguez said the medical staff didn't report any serious injuries, but Faith's suit alleges Faith "suffered from pain, mental anguish and humiliation" as a result of the incident.
"By reason of the defendants' actions, including the obviously excessive force used against him, plaintiff was deprived of his constitutional and statutory rights," the lawsuit states. "Plaintiff seeks an award of compensatory and punitive damages and attorney's fees."
His lawyers say the charges against Faith for breach of peace and interference with a police officer ultimately were dismissed. They also believe Rodriguez had received Taser training that day.
The SPD had no comment about the issue, and Shoshoni Mayor Scott Peters couldn't be reached by press time. Officials said Rodriguez is no longer an officer at the SPD.