FARGO — An inmate at the Cass County Jail has filed a civil rights lawsuit claiming excessive force by Fargo police officers during his arrest in December.
Dennis William Merritt of Fargo filed the case in federal court, seeking $1,066,816 for future loss of work, mental and emotional distress, and physical pain. He's also asking for payment of his medical expenses and legal fees.
The case arises from his arrest at Essentia Hospital in Fargo in the early morning hours of Dec. 19 by officers Austin Yancy and Adam Goosen and supervising Sgt. Cristie Jacobson.
Police Chief David Todd said in an email last week that his department's investigation has found Merritt's claims unsubstantiated. He added that Merritt faces felony charges from the encounter of preventing arrest and simple assault on a police officer, as well as a misdemeanor count of making a false report to police.
Merritt, who was being arrested that December day on five felony warrants from Clay County, claims in the lawsuit that because of a medical condition officers shouldn't have pulled off his gloves in the hospital as it caused him severe pain.
He alleges the officers "dragged me to the police car" and that there is an audio recording of him clearly saying he would walk with them. "I was then slammed against the car twice, then placed in the back of the car," his suit says.
Merritt claims Yancy was on top of him in the back of the vehicle and grabbed his throat and swung at him. He said Jacobson had "to scream to him (Yancy) to stop" and that the incident was captured on video. Todd said police would not be releasing the video at this time.
In the lawsuit, Merritt describes what he said were his injuries, including wrist damage, bone separation, a damaged clavicle, loss of feeling in his fingers, pain shooting up his arm and daily headaches.
Despite Merritt's claims, court documents in the criminal case against him paint a different picture. Merritt, the documents said, first encountered police when he refused to get out of a vehicle, where suspected drug paraphernalia was seen, in a parking lot in south Fargo. He refused to identify himself or get out of the vehicle for 1 hour and 15 minutes and held a knife to his neck at one point and said he was going to cut his throat, according to the documents.
He was taken to the hospital for an evaluation.
After being identified there, it was found he was wanted on the warrants and authorities allege he then refused to get out of his hospital bed. Court documents said he continued to resist arrest and at one point kicked Yancy in the chest.
According to Assistant City Attorney Nancy Morris, the civil rights lawsuit has been turned over to a lawyer with the North Dakota Insurance Reserve Fund that handles such claims against cities in the state.
Todd said in his review of Merritt's allegations with the Fargo Police Department's Office of Professional Standards sergeant that they looked at the in-car video and police reports and didn't find "anything to substantiate Mr. Merritt's claims."
They also determined that the encounter wouldn't be investigated as a personnel complaint while the criminal complaint against Merritt was going through the judicial process.