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News / Northwest

Snohomish County settles suit over death of man deputies stunned, choked

By Mike Carter, The Seattle Times
Published: June 8, 2023, 7:39am

SEATTLE — Snohomish County has agreed to pay $1.55 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of a 29-year-old man who died in 2017 after sheriff’s deputies used a stun gun on him and choked him unconscious.

One of those deputies, who has since left the department, was involved in the similar death of a man in Gold Bar years earlier that resulted in a $600,000 civil settlement, according to public records and the lawsuit filed by the sister and mother of Alexander Dold.

Dold had been living with his mother, Kathy Duncan, and collecting Social Security disability payments because of his schizophrenia. The two got into an argument March 21, 2017, over Dold’s daily allowance, and Duncan fell off a chair and suffered minor injuries after a struggle over her cellphone, according to the lawsuit.

Duncan called the Snohomish County Department of Mental Health and asked them to send a mental health professional to evaluate her son, who had fled the house, according to court pleadings. The lawsuit said the agency declined, claiming Dold was not violent enough to warrant an evaluation at that point, and told Duncan to call police.

“Although hesitant to do so, Duncan decided to call 911” once her son had returned home, telling a dispatcher he was calm and that she wanted him taken to a hospital, the lawsuit said.

Deputies were told that there had been a physical domestic dispute involving a “suspect” with mental illness who was “off his meds,” according to the pleadings.

Dold answered the door, told the two deputies “everything was fine” and tried to close the door. Then Deputies Bryson McGee and Cody McCoy pushed their way into the house, told Dold he was under arrest, and tried to handcuff him, according to the pleadings.

A struggle between Dold, described by friends as a “gentle giant,” and the deputies raged from a back bedroom — where McGee said he pinned Dold’s head to the ground with his knee and punched him several times in the face — to the front yard, where at least five deputies stunned Dold seven times, according to news reports and the lawsuit.

Several deputies lay on top of him, struck him with a baton and bent his fingers back, according to reports. Dold was rendered unconscious at least twice by deputies who deployed a “lateral vascular neck restraint,” which restricts the flow of blood to the brain, before they handcuffed him and found he was unresponsive, reports said.

The Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and the private firm representing the county in the lawsuit did not respond to an email sent Wednesday seeking comment on the settlement.

According to the lawsuit, McGee had been similarly involved in the 2010 death of Snohomish resident Adam Collier, who had a heart attack after McGee jolted him three times in quick succession with a Taser after responding to reports of a disturbance in Gold Bar.

Collier, who had been drinking and using drugs, struggled with the deputies, and McGee attempted to subdue him with the Taser, according to court documents. The man’s family filed a federal lawsuit in 2013, alleging excessive force. The county settled for $600,000 without admitting liability, according to news reports and Collier’s attorney, James Lobsenz.

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McGee was not disciplined in connection with either death, according to the Sheriff’s Office and court documents. Court documents indicated he left the Sheriff’s Office to work for another agency out of state.

Lobsenz, who also represented Duncan and Dold’s sister, said the circumstances of McGee’s resignation from the office before he could be terminated allowed him to retain his law enforcement certification and attempt to work as an officer elsewhere. The “notice of separation” Snohomish County sent to the state Criminal Justice Training Commission states McGee “retired,” according to court filings.

Lobsenz had sued the Sheriff’s Office on several grounds, including the use of excessive force and “negligent retention,” alleging the office knew McGee was a problem deputy but did nothing about it. Aside from the two deaths, court documents allege McGee was investigated for dishonesty for allegedly failing to report an allegation of a child rape that had been brought to him, instead warning the suspect and then changing his story.

The retention issue was hotly litigated, and the parties were preparing to ask the trial judge, U.S. District Judge John Chun, to certify a question to the Washington Supreme Court seeking clarification of the doctrine when the case settled May 31.

“When I took the Collier case [in 2010] I remember his mother telling me she wanted to sue so no other mother would have this happen to her, so that this would not happen again,” Lobsenz said. “It’s painful to know that it did.”