Suit alleges excessive force, violation of rights

Man says he was thrown to the ground by officers

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COEUR d'ALENE - An Athol man is alleging that Coeur d'Alene police officers used excessive force and violated several of his constitutional rights following a 2013 traffic stop.

Mark Barnhouse filed a civil suit April 1 in U.S. District Court seeking more than $100,000 in damages stemming from the incident. Barnhouse is represented by Moscow attorney Jefferson Griffeath.

The complaint claims that when Barnhouse's wife was stopped by Coeur d'Alene police officers for failing to use a turn signal, Barnhouse, a passenger, was "unlawfully arrested, seized, assaulted, and battered" by officers over a glass bottle of root beer.

Coeur d'Alene Police Department Officers Johann Schmitz, Mark Knapp and Jonathan Hernas are all named as defendants in the suit. Cpt. Ron Clark, who was serving as interim chief of police at the time the suit was filed, is also named.

Five John Does were also mentioned, with the civil complaint stating that all five are members of the department.

"(Barnhouse) posed neither an objective nor a subjective risk to defendants," the complaint states. "All actions were taken because Officer Knapp has his feelings hurt. This resulted in the plaintiff being violently taken to the ground, causing minor injuries, but risking more."

On Feb. 13, 2013, according to the complaint, Barnhouse was riding in the passenger seat of a vehicle being driven by his wife, Lisa. When Lisa failed to use her signal while turning right onto Fourth Street from a Coeur d'Alene parking lot, she was pulled over by Schmitz.

"At this time Officer Mike Knapp situated himself at the passenger side of the vehicle unbeknownst to the plaintiff (Barnhouse)," the complaint states. "Officer Schmitz, standing along the driver's side door to talk to the driver, noticed the plaintiff drinking from a glass bottle and asked the plaintiff what he was drinking."

Barnhouse told Schmitz that he was drinking root beer from the glass bottle and, according to the complaint, turned the bottle to show Schmitz the label.

"Great. All right," Schmitz responded, according to the complaint.

Schmitz then asked Barnhouse for his identification, and also asked the man why he wasn't wearing a seat belt. Barnhouse reportedly told Schmitz he "forgot to put it on," and then, according to the complaint, Barnhouse asked the officer whether or not he had to give the officer his identification.

"...to which Officer Schmitz replied in the affirmative because the plaintiff was not wearing his seat belt," the complaint states. "The plaintiff sighed, then casually opened the passenger side door and stepped out with the bottle in hand in a normal carrying grip to retrieve his identification from his rear pocket."

After getting out of the car, Knapp "surprised" Barnhouse, the complaint alleges, and pushed him in the chest and into the vehicle while ordering him to put the bottle down. During this time, the complaint alleges that Schmitz said "easy, easy, easy" to Barnhouse and moved to the passenger side of the vehicle "without a sense of urgency."

Barnhouse complied with the officer's requests and put the soda bottle inside the car. After doing so, the complaint states that Barnhouse said, "Criminey, what a bunch of --------heads."

"...after a moment's pause on the part of Officer Knapp, he decided this slight was sufficient reason to pull the plaintiff away from the open door and shove him against the vehicle," the complaint states.

Knapp and Schmitz then began to handcuff Barnhouse while informing him he was under arrest for having an open container. Barnhouse was then "thrown on the ground" by both officers and handcuffed, the complaint alleges.

"Plaintiff never attempted to flee, attack, or threaten defendants prior to his arrest, objectively establishing that plaintiff posed no imminent risk to the defendant officers," the complaint states. "(Barnhouse) did not resist or obstruct the officers' duties except to a degree necessary to prevent himself from suffering excessive damage from the concrete."

While taking Barnhouse to jail, the complaint alleges that one of the unnamed officers "lifted his (Barnhouse's) hands while handcuffed, using them as a lever to cause his shoulder unnecessary pain despite his compliance in moving to the vehicle."

Barnhouse was charged with resisting arrest. Those charges, according to the complaint, were dismissed following a bond forfeiture. A citation was never issued for Barnhouse's failure to use his seat belt.

The complaint also alleges that the involved officers made false statements in their police report in order to "prejudice and undermine" Barnhouse by "making him appear combative and noncompliant."

"The officers then decided to modify and correct their false statements only after reviewing Officer Schmitz's body camera," the complaint states.

Attorney Randall Adams answered the complaint on behalf of the defendants. He filed the response May 19 in U.S. District Court.

The defendants' response to the complaint includes admissions to most of the factual information included in the complaint, but denies the specific information used by Barnhouse in claiming that his constitutional rights were violated.

A jury trial, tentatively slated to last four days, is scheduled to begin Oct. 20, 2015, at the federal courthouse in Coeur d'Alene.

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