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June 25, 2022

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Tacoma settles police shooting lawsuit for $8 million

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SEATTLE — The city of Tacoma on Friday agreed to an $8 million settlement for a man who was paralyzed and had his legs amputated after being shot by a police officer during a low-speed car chase in 2011.

The settlement came two weeks into a federal civil rights trial that was being conducted on Zoom because of COVID-19 precautions.

Than Orn was repeatedly shot by Officer Kristopher Clark on Oct. 12, 2011, as officers tried to stop him for driving with his headlights off. Throughout the 15-minute pursuit, Orn — who had a suspended license and had recently smoked cocaine — drove at 25 mph to 35 mph (40 to 56 kmh) and stopped at all traffic lights and stop signs; he said he wanted to make it home to his apartment because his wife needed the car for work.

When Orn arrived at the complex he was followed by a caravan of police cars. Clark set up a roadblock with his SUV in the parking lot, prompting Orn to come to a brief stop and then maneuver around Clark’s vehicle at about 5 mph (8 kmh). Clark fired 10 shots into the side and back of Orn’s SUV, striking Orn three times.

Early this year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to grant the officer immunity from the lawsuit, saying it did not appear that Orn posed a threat when Clark began shooting but that a jury would have to make that decision.

Shortly before the settlement was reached, Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell acknowledged on the witness stand that the department violated policies during the pursuit, including by escalating a low-level situation, said Darrell Cochran, an attorney for Orn.

Initially believing Orn’s vehicle was being driven by someone who had a history of antagonizing officers, the department had 23 patrol cars respond and deployed spike strips, which Orn evaded, Cochran said.

“The family has been exhausted by nine years of litigation trying to get this into the courtroom,” Cochran said. “This finally gives them an opportunity for peace.”

Anne Bremner, an attorney for the city, said the city maintains that the officer’s actions were justified, but she noted that Orn, a father of three, elicited sympathy for what he had gone through.

“It seemed to be in the best interests of all to settle the case and move on,” she said.

The police chief’s acknowledgement that the department violated policies did not equate to an admission that it violated Orn’s constitutional rights, Bremner said.

“In this climate today in dealing with police, it was important for the chief to convey his views on how departments can get better,” she said.

The city will pay about $2.6 million of the settlement, with the rest being picked up by insurance.

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