Two Jefferson County Sheriff Deputies who were acquitted last year in connection with a death in the county’s jail have sued the attorneys who prosecuted them.
Michael Durkan and Anthony Hansen filed a federal lawsuit this week alleging that their civil rights were violated by the criminal prosecution. Among others, the lawsuit names Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote, Jefferson County District Attorney Steven F. Leriche, Redmond police detective Johnny Dickson and the city of Redmond.
The lawsuit alleges prosecutors and the others “conspired to deprive [the deputies] of their civil rights” and engaged in “malicious prosecution.”
Dan Thenell, the deputies’ lawyer, said indicting them was “completely extraordinary” and questioned how the state was able to get an indictment in the first place.
In a statement, Foote said his office would “vigorously” defend the lawsuit.
James Wippel, 59, was arrested on drug charges on April 24, 2017. He died two days later at the Jefferson County Jail from a perforated ulcer.
Case records show there was blood in Wippel’s vomit before he died. The deputies on shift believed he was detoxing. They moved him to another cell to watch him more closely and gave him Gatorade and food. They didn’t call 911.
Later, the jail’s nurse determined Wippel needed emergency medical attention and called for an ambulance just before he died.
In April 2018, a Jefferson County grand jury indicted the three sheriff’s deputies who were on shift in the hours before Wippel died.
The corrections officers — Durkan, Skidgel and Hansen — were charged with criminally negligent homicide, a felony.
In December 2018, Crook County Judge Daina Vitolins found all three deputies not guilty.
In her ruling she said no one testified to “that critical piece of evidence: When was it too late for medical treatment to save Mr. Wippel and did that happen when Mr. Wippel was in the care of Ms. Skidgel, Mr. Durkan and Mr. Hansen? So I find you not guilty.”
But the judge also had some harsh words for the corrections deputies.
“They’re failure to obtain medical care was a gross deviation from the standard of care a reasonable person would’ve done in this situation,” Vitolins said, according to KTVZ.
In an interview with OPB on Friday, Thenell said he questions how the state acted leading up to the trial.
“The key issue in this case was how did the state get an indictment against these three officers for causing a persons death when their own expert would not testify their failure to call an ambulance at the time the state indicated that they failed to caused the death?” Thenell said.
Except in rare circumstances, prosecutors have immunity from being sued based on their performance.
In his statement, Foote said the judge “found beyond a reasonable doubt that both Durkan and Hansen had acted with ‘criminal negligence’ in failing to carry out their duties. But the judge was uncertain whether the evidence had shown, beyond a reasonable doubt, that their ‘criminal negligence’ had been the cause of the man’s [Wippel’s] death.”
The civil federal suit alleges Foote and other defendants didn’t have probable cause for starting and continuing their criminal case. It also states the grand jury process was “constitutionally defective” because some grand jurors had prior contact with the corrections deputies.
The deputies are seeking $10 million, according to the lawsuit.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correctly identify two of the defendants.