Jury awards victim $1 million
May 2, 2007

A phone call from Kennewick police administrators in July 2003 to see how Ken Rogers was doing in the aftermath of a botched police chase could have saved the city more than $1 million in a federal verdict.

But Rogers' phone never rang at his Washougal home with an apology or admission of wrongdoing.

And Tuesday afternoon, a U.S. District Court jury justified Rogers' decision to sue when it agreed his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable seizure were violated by the city, Benton County and four officers.

Rogers and his wife, Mary Lou, were awarded $1,052,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.

Today, his Kennewick attorney Diehl Rettig will ask Judge Edward Shea to order the defendants to pay about $500,000 in attorney fees and litigation costs since the officers violated federal law.

It all started with a minor traffic case in the early hours of July 13, 2003.

Deke, a Kennewick police dog, followed a wrong scent into a fenced back yard on West Victoria Street where Rogers was asleep. Believing Rogers was the suspect, Deke latched onto him and in the struggle bit him several times on the hand, back, neck and face while three officers beat him.

Rettig argued to the jury that it was an illegal use of excessive force when the officers used Deke, then didn't call the dog off and proceeded to hit Rogers.

"All that was unnecessary in our view and I think that's what the jury concluded," Rettig said.

"The collective conscience of the jury is that this type of police action will not be tolerated. That you do not use a sledgehammer to kill a fly, so to speak. Police action has to be proportionate to the conduct being addressed."

Rogers, whose innocence never has been questioned, said he was confused, wasn't wearing his eyeglasses and thought he was being attacked by prowlers, and that's why he fought back. He suffered permanent nerve damage to his left hand -- and he is left-handed, hearing loss in his right ear and mental anguish and anxiety. It also aggravated a disabling back injury.

The Kennewick native was in town to visit family and fish.

Rogers told the Herald on Tuesday the legal process has taken almost four years and never had to get this far. He said law enforcement learned early on that he was not the person riding a Moped that night without a helmet or head light -- the incident which sparked the search.

"(A phone call) would have gone a long way back in the beginning. And when that didn't happen, I truly believed I was wronged in that situation and within a few weeks I decided to pursue legal action," said Rogers, 54.

"I felt comfortable that a group of our peers heard the case and I was willing to accept what they believed from their side and ultimately compensated with a reward."

His motivation and goal was making sure this type of incident doesn't happen to another person. The Rogers family had to cash in on some savings and stocks to afford his ongoing medical expenses and the legal battle, which went as far as the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.

His lawsuit, which was heard in Richland federal court, accused the agencies of unlawful imprisonment, false arrest, undue search and seizure and of failing to get him adequate medical treatment.

Rogers said he has no hard feelings toward the defendants and believes police officers "are definitely a necessity in society," he just is more cautious now.

The award was at least two to three times what Kennewick's insurance carriers were offering during mediation before a federal magistrate several months ago, Rettig said.

The Rogers family had asked for $2.35 million in compensatory damages, including physical and emotional losses, and $1 million total in punitive damages to be levied against Kennewick Sgt. Richard Dopke, police Officers Brad Kohn and Ryan Bonnalie and sheriff's Deputy Jeff Quackenbush.

The jury found the conduct of all four officers was malicious or in reckless disregard of Rogers' Constitutional rights, but only ordered punitive damages against Dopke for $200,000 and Kohn for $50,000.

Dopke retired in 2003 after an internal affairs review of the incident recommended his demotion to a patrolman and relief of his supervisory duties. Bonnalie was fired from the department in 2005 after he brandished his loaded police gun while off duty during a road rage incident.

Deke was retired from the force in early 2006.

Tuesday, Kennewick Chief Ken Hohenberg stood by the internal investigation, in which he determined Deke should never have been called to the neighborhood.

Hohenberg said he believes the officers had no intent to violate department policies or to inflict any personal injury on Rogers.

As a department, he said, "We continue to be connected to our community and to be very professional when dealing with people."

Kennewick's insurance carrier, which is on the hook for the award, could appeal the decision.

Rettig said he is aware the police department has taken steps to ensure change.

"As a citizen of this community and a resident of Kennewick, I'm pleased that we have a police administration, particularly under Chief Hohenberg, that is not going to allow this to happen again," he said. "This reflects first and foremost on the sergeant who called the officers on, and secondarily on the officers who administrated the punishment to Mr. Rogers that was uncalled for. ... It was vigilante justice, police brutality and that's reflected in the verdict as well."