Town Pays $75k To Settle Lawsuit

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A four-year-old lawsuit charging Payson Police officers with six complaints, including trespassing, federal civil rights violations, and assault and battery has been settled by the Payson Town Council for $75,000.

The damages, awarded to Larry and Betty Sheehan of Star Valley, were announced at a June 23 town council meeting.

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Payson Police Chief Gordon Gartner

In light of the charges, Payson Police Chief Gordon Gartner stands behind the officers charged, including David Vaughn.

"He has served the citizens of this area for 20 years with both Payson PD and the county (sheriff's department)," Gartner said. "We think he's a good officer."

In the original complaint, filed May 21, 2001, the Sheehans said that Sgt. Rod Mamero and officer Vaughn trespassed on their property while responding to a call near the plaintiff's home on Haught Road in Star Valley.

According to Payson police reports, the officers were investigating a possible burglary reported by a Chaparral Pines Golf Club security guard. The course is located near the Sheehan home, which is near town and county boundary lines.

In the lawsuit, Larry Sheehan said he noticed a commotion outside his home and went to investigate.

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David Vaughn, Payson police officer

Sheehan said he identified himself as the owner of the home and told officers Vaughn, Mamero and others not to enter his property, and that no burglary was occurring.

Vaughn continued to insist there was a burglary occurring and he was going to investigate, the suit says.

The suit said, "Vaughn crossed the approximately 14 feet between two gates, grabbed the second gate and tore it off the post it was wired to, breaking the wires and a metal strap holding the gate in place."

The suit continues, Vaughn "threw the fence gate down on Mr. Sheehan's foot, breaking Mr. Sheehan's foot. He then grabbed Mr. Sheehan by his arms and shook him violently by pushing and then pulling him in whiplash action."

Sheehan said he sustained a broken foot, separated toenail, and a strained neck and back that made it impossible for him to lift his arm above shoulder level.

The suit also said Sheehan's Payson Floor Covering business "suffered financial losses directly attributable to the physical injuries suffered by Mr. Sheehan."

Sheehan said his mental health has also been affected "in the form of emotional pain, sufferings and humiliation."

Vaughn said he did not wish to comment on the allegations or the settlement of the lawsuit.

Following the incident, Gartner wrote to Sheehan saying "it is my finding that Officer Vaughn has violated policies of the town of Payson and the Payson Police Department.

"As a result of these violations, Officer Vaughn has received appropriate disciplinary actions and other appropriate measures have been taken."

Gartner said he did not wish to comment on the disciplinary action.

Sheehan's attorney, Chuck Walker, called the settlement amount "a good compromise."

According to Town Manager Fred Carpenter, the town is liable for $10,000 of the amount and the remainder will be paid by the Municipal Risk Retention Pool of which the town is a member.

The amount of damages owed by the town was determined in arbitration sessions held in Phoenix, town attorney Sam Streichman said.

Walker called the legal process a lengthy one, and speculated it could have gone on longer without the help of an arbitrator.

"It wasn't yet ready to go to trial," he said.

Vaughn is approaching 20 years of law enforcement service and currently is a school resource officer in the Payson Unified School District.

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