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Judge dismisses lawsuit against local police officers and jailers

A federal judge has thrown out the lawsuit brought by a former Grand Forks man against two police officers and two jail administrators after a violent struggle with law enforcement after a standoff in May 2004.

A federal judge has thrown out the lawsuit brought by a former Grand Forks man against two police officers and two jail administrators after a violent struggle with law enforcement after a standoff in May 2004.

The case most likely was made possible largely because a local television station filmed his struggle with police during his arrest. The video helped exonerate the police officers, said their attorney, Ronald Fischer, Grand Forks, on Tuesday.

Garcia was 34 in May 2004 when he fled police attempts to for arrest on a felony assault warrant, holing up and claiming he was armed. After a six-hour standoff, the police used a "flash-bang" device to distract him, as well as tear gas, rushed him and handcuffed him after a struggle.

According to U.S. Judge Rodney Webb, the filmed footage shows Garcia resisting arrest, as well as Grand Forks Police Officer Wayne Schull hitting Garcia four times during the arrest.

Garcia also claims he was harmed by gravel being imbedded in his face during the arrest.

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He sued Schull and officer Russell Kraft for excessive force. He also sued Gary Gardner, then administrator of the Grand Forks County jail, and his assistant, Linda Wagner, for "unconstitutional conditions of confinement."

Webb ruled it was clear that Schull and Kraft acted properly, under the "qualified immunity" provisions of the law allowing police to use reasonable force in dangerous circumstances.

"This case is unlike most cases this court has seen because the record includes a video recording of the actual arrest and alleged excessive force filmed by a neutral third party," Webb wrote in his ruling.

The alleged neutral third party was a news crew from WDAZ-TV.

Garcia also complained about being kept in a certain cell in jail so he could be watched for suicidal tendencies and sued the top two jailers. Webb ruled Garcia did not pursue the administrative remedies available for him in the jail.

Arguments in the lawsuit were heard late last fall, and Webb issued his written opinion Monday.

Garcia, nor his attorney, DeWayne Johnston of Grand Forks, could be reached late Tuesday.

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237, (800) 477-6572, ext. 237, or slee@gfherald.com .

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