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Woman who was struck in face by Moorhead officer settles excessive force lawsuit

The city of Moorhead and the Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust agreed to pay Thomas $132,500 if she agreed to dismiss the case.

Still from Video: Security video shows Moorhead officer striking handcuffed woman
This image from surveillance footage shows Moorhead Police Officer Matthew Lambert using force on Jennifer Thomas after she spit at him in a Fargo hospital room. Special to The Forum

FARGO — A woman who accused a Moorhead police officer of using excessive force when he arrested and struck her three years ago has settled her lawsuit.

U.S. Federal Judge Nancy Brasel signed an order on Aug. 20 to dismiss Jennifer Joan Thomas' civil case against Officer Matthew Jared Lambert.

The city of Moorhead and its police department were not named as defendants in the lawsuit, but the city and the Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust agreed to pay Thomas $132,500 if she agreed to dismiss the case, Jason Hiveley, an attorney who represented Lambert, said Wednesday, Sept. 15.

"There was no admission of wrongdoing or liability and Officer Matthew Lambert was separately and voluntarily dismissed from the case," Hiveley said in an email.

Thomas filed the lawsuit against Lambert on April 30 to seek $500,000 in damages. She alleged Lambert violated her rights when she was arrested Sept. 9, 2019, at Buffalo Wild Wings in Moorhead.

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Court documents said she was having a mental health crisis after drinking a significant amount of alcohol. She threatened to take her own life, with restaurant employees saying she had a handgun, a civil complaint said.

The gun was determined to be a BB gun.

Officers arrested Thomas and put her in a car before she spat at Lambert, the complaint said.

“Lambert responded by striking Jen twice on the left side of her face and angrily yelling out, ‘Don’t spit!’” the complaint said.

Another officer pepper-sprayed Thomas, according to the complaint.

In a hospital room, the handcuffed Thomas was seen in video yelling at Lambert as she stood up after sitting on an examination bed. Video shows Lambert grabbing Thomas by the neck with two hands and forcing her down on the table.

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Thomas then spat again at Lambert, who appears to then strike Thomas in the head with his elbow.

Thomas suffered a nasal bone fracture, contusions, lacerations and other injuries after being arrested, the complaint said. She also argued Lambert lied about the incident in reports.

Lambert's attorneys said in court filings he acted in “good faith belief his conduct was lawful, constitutional, proper and pursuant to probable cause."

The Cass County State’s Attorney's Office filed an aggravated assault charge against Lambert, but it was dropped in June 2019 after an expert for prosecutors found his actions were “objectively reasonable.”

Thomas was charged in Clay County District Court with assault, threats of violence and carrying a BB gun, but a judge found her not guilty because of her state of mind at the time of the incident.

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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