Settlement reached in civil suit of cityJesus Leon and Antonio Duenas Pena will be paid a total sum of $8,500 in exchange for dismissal of all claims against the City of Worthington.
By: Justine Wettschreck, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Jesus Leon and Antonio Duenas Pena will be paid a total sum of $8,500 in exchange for dismissal of all claims against the City of Worthington — a settlement that ends a civil lawsuit that has been pending for more than a year and sought damages in excess of more than $100,000.
At a court-ordered settlement conference Wednesday, plaintiff Leon agreed to voluntarily dismiss his excessive force claim against Worthington Police Sgt. Tim Gaul for zero dollars, in exchange for Gaul’s agreement not to demand payment of costs incurred defending the claim.
The $8,500 for dismissal of all claims will be paid by the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT), which insures the City of Worthington. To avoid the expense of trial, including continuing legal fees and substantial overtime expenses for city employees to travel to Minneapolis for federal court — and to avoid any appeal of the dismissed claims — the city and the LMCIT determined it made fiscal sense to save taxpayer dollars and avoid the cost of taking the remaining claims to trial.
“Obviously (the) plaintiffs settled this case because their claims were without merit,” stated Jason Hiveley, an attorney with Iverson Reuvers law firm of Bloomington, which represented the City of Worthington and Gaul. “This very nominal settlement amount allows the City and the involved officers to avoid the risk of a trial and obtain closure on any subsequent appeal of previously dismissed claims. The City and these fine officers were certainly prepared to proceed to trial, but settlement for this nominal amount made sense.”
Worthington Public Safety Director Mike Cumiskey said the settlement is not in any way an admission of guilt, but simply made good financial sense.
“We know that nothing happened,” he said Thursday. “We would have liked to see it go to trial and get a clean bill from a jury because we know (Gaul) did nothing wrong. But this way it is done for everybody.”
The civil suit against Gaul stemmed from an incident in March 2007, when authorities were called to Club De Leones, owned by Leon and Pena, because of loud music complaints. The Worthington Police Department had been called to the club numerous times in the months prior to March because of loud music. When Gaul and another officer arrived at the club in March and asked Leon to turn the music down, he allegedly told the officers he did not have to turn the music down. For refusing to comply, he was placed under arrest. Leon claimed that as Gaul was escorting him out to the squad car, he shoved Leon into a door frame, dislocating his shoulder, something Gaul and the other officer present deny.
“There was no third part bystander there to be totally objective,” Cumiskey explained, adding that some day he hopes to see a kind of “badge-cam” that could help protect law enforcement officials from a society quick to file lawsuits.
The civil suit also contained claims against Worthington Manager of Planning and Economic Development Brad Chapulis and Worthington Building Official Armand Eshleman for revoking the plaintiffs’ due process rights by revoking their dance club license. The plaintiffs also accused Chapulis and Eshleman of negligence for issuing a permit for building renovations when the building was not suitable for a dance club.
Those claims were dismissed in a summary judgment earlier this month, and the settlement of $8,500 comes with the stipulation that no appeals be filed.