$1.75M claimed in potential lawsuit against city of McCleary
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A former McCleary firefighter who fended off two trials when he was facing criminal charges for drawing a gun on another firefighter following a brawl in a public park is now seeking at least $1.75 million from the city of McCleary, alleging a “false arrest” and violations of his civil rights.
At the center of the potential lawsuit filed by Robert Enriquez is that McCleary police officer Randy Bunch, the arresting officer at the time of the incident back on Jan. 19, 2012, was actually sleeping with Enriquez’s wife, but didn’t disclose the conflict of interest until forced to do so.
The claim for damages, filed June 25, was released to The Vidette using a public records request. Damage claims must be filed with local governments at least 60 days before the actual lawsuit is filed.
Enriquez, a volunteer firefighter and former Fire District 12 commissioner, got into a fight with fellow firefighter James Dunn near Beerbower Park, with several inches of snow on the ground and the power out citywide, and by the time a police officer arrived, Enriquez “was holding a handgun with both hands in a shooting stance and pointing it directly” at the other man, according to charging documents. Dunn happened to be the ex-husband of the woman Enriquez was in a relationship with.
The conflict apparently started when Dunn allegedly saw Enriquez with an open container of alcohol in a car when Dunn came to pick up his daughter earlier in the evening. The two parties decided to settle their differences in the park, although witness reports note that Dunn was the one who first tackled Enriquez.
Officers on scene drew their weapons on both men, but ultimately decided to arrest Enriquez.
About six months after the fact, investigators working for Enriquez’ legal defense team found that Officer Bunch had been calling or texting Enriquez’s wife 218 times in the days around the conflict. Just one minute after arriving on scene for the brawling incident, the defense team said Bunch had contact with Enriquez’s wife, citing telephone records. According to Enriquez’s lawyers, the ex-wife then drove by the scene to check it out.
Although Bunch was the official arresting officer, he was not the only law enforcement officer on the scene. Bunch and a Sheriff’s deputy arrived at the same time. The police chief came 10 to 15 minutes later and there were also police on scene from Elma.
Enriquez was found not guilty of second-degree assault by a jury in January of last year, although the jury decided that Enriquez’s use of force was not lawful and didn’t constitute self defense. An earlier trial ended in a hung jury.
Enriquez engaged the services of celebrity attorney John Henry Browne, best known for defending the likes of “Barefoot Bandit” Colton Harris-Moore and Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, accused of killing civilians in Afghanistan.
Browne’s law firm filed the damage claim against the city of McCleary last month.
The damage claim comes at the same time residents of McCleary are choosing whether to approve property tax measures to benefit the police force.
McCleary Mayor Gary Dent says he’s not worried and thinks residents will see past the damage claim. He notes Bunch “was given a serious reprimand” after the incident, describing it as a personnel matter.
“This is in the hands of our insurance pool now,” Dent said.
The claim for damages notes, “On Nov. 20, 2012, fully 10 months after Officer Bunch arrested Mr. Enriquez and nearly five months after defense counsel interviewed Officer Bunch and confronted him with evidence of his conflict of interest, the mayor of the city of McCleary gave a written reprimand to Officer Bunch.”
Attorney Sandra Ferguson, who defended Enriquez with Browne, urged the city to settle the matter in a letter the city received last month.
“Our investigation of this case has revealed that city of McCleary policymakers failed to establish a policy or practice instructing its police officers on the importance of avoiding conflicts of interest — or the appearance of conflicts — in the line of duty,” Ferguson wrote. “At the very least, there should be a policy requiring police officers to promptly report conflicts of interest or potential conflicts of interest that arise during the performance of official duties. We have reviewed the city’s and the police department’s written policies and procedures and have found nothing of the sort.”
Ferguson says that the arrest led Enriquez to become in debt from defending two criminal trials.
“Due to his false arrest, he was terminated from the Tacoma Fire Department,” Ferguson writes. “As a result of his involuntary termination from the Tacoma Fire Department, he lost his livelihood and also his career as a firefighter. His legal expenses and loss of steady employment have left him unable to support his family; his reputation in the community has been destroyed; and he lost both his fire commissioner post and his position as a volunteer firefighter in McCleary. In family court, he was denied custody of his children and, to this day, cannot visit his children without supervision of a third party.”
After the incident, Enriquez, a 10-year firefighter for the Tacoma Fire Department, was placed on paid administrative leave from that department pending the outcome of an internal investigation. Three months later, he was terminated from the Tacoma department because he “related to us things that were conduct unbecoming of a firefighter” and that were against department policy, the deputy chief told The Vidette at the time. Enriquez resigned from the Fire District 12 commission in August of 2012, citing the difficulty of keeping a residence in the district and “restrictions” placed on him by the City of McCleary.
The damage claim seeks $1.75 million. However, the claim includes the initial filing that may be filed in U.S. District Court of Tacoma, which seeks at least $500,000 in punitive damages from the city of McCleary, McCleary Chief George Crumb and officer Bunch for a combined $1.5 million. In addition, the filing seeks “general damages to be proven at trial,” special damages, including lost wages from loss of employment as well as attorney fees. That all could add up to millions of dollars.
The claim states that Bunch’s decision to arrest Enriquez was “biased and fraught with conflict of interest issues.”
The potential lawsuit also alleges “negligent training, malicious prosecution, negligent infliction of emotional distress, outrageous conduct and negligent supervision.”
Enriquez currently lives in Port Orchard.