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Jury clears 2 troopers, deputy of wrongdoing

May 16, 2004 Sunday

Jurors have cleared two Utah Highway Patrol troopers and a Salt Lake County sheriff's deputy of wrongdoing in a man's July 2000 arrest.

After about four hours of deliberation, the federal court jury returned a finding Thursday night that the officers did not use excessive force against Tyler Tweed following a minor traffic accident.

Earlier Thursday, attorney Jeffrey Robinson told jurors in his closing argument that UHP troopers Shauna Mackey and Michelle McLaughlin, and Salt Lake County Sheriff's Lt. Chris Bertram, were lying when they testified Tweed became combative and violent when they attempted to move his vehicle following an accident on eastbound I-215.

The officers forced Tweed to the median and handcuffed him, he said, and Bertram then sprayed Tweed's eyes with pepper spray and beat him about the head, back and legs with his baton.

Following the incident, the three spoke to "try and concoct a story together" to protect themselves from an excessive force claim, Robinson alleged.

Robinson asked jurors to find that Bertram's actions violated Tweed's constitutional rights, and Mackey and McLaughlin also violated his rights by failing to intervene in the beating. He asked the jury to award damages to his client, contending the incident had cost Tweed some $17,000 in medical fees and caused him to suffer post-traumatic stress syndrome and depression.

The officers presented an entirely different version of events in their testimony during the four-day trial.

Bertram admitted to pepper spraying and hitting Tweed with his baton, but said he did so only to attempt to subdue the enraged man. The off-duty deputy was on his way home when he came upon the accident scene and stopped to assist the UHP troopers. He said he asked Tweed to either move the vehicle or get out of the car so Bertram could do so, but Tweed repeatedly refused.

When Bertram leaned into the vehicle to undo Tweed's seat belt and remove him from the car, the seat belt hit his holstered gun. Thinking Tweed was reaching for the weapon, Bertram jumped back and sprayed the man in the eyes.

Tweed then became out of control, swinging and kicking at the officers, Bertram's attorney, T.J. Tsakalos, said in closing arguments. Bertram's baton strikes were in line with his police training, he said, and none was delivered after Tweed was placed in handcuffs.

"All of these strikes were to get control of Mr. Tweed," Tsakalos said in closing arguments. "There was no other reason."

The trooper's attorney, Dan Larsen, described the incident as an "all-out fight and struggle on the freeway." The situation lasted between three and four minutes, he said, and ended with a handcuffed Tweed thrashing violently in the gravel of the median.

Tweed's injuries were a direct result of his behavior after exiting his vehicle, Larsen said, and were "incurred reasonably, lawfully."

Tweed was charged with three misdemeanor counts of assault against a police officer following the incident, but the charges were later dismissed. E-mail: mailto:[email protected]
 
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