Isle case sets standard on Taser use, attorney says of settlement

Even though a $40,000 settlement in a federal lawsuit doesn’t cover costs, “it was a case well worth doing,” said the attorney representing a woman who sued Maui police after she was Tased by a police officer responding to a domestic dispute at her Wailuku residence.

Honolulu attorney Eric Seitz, representing plaintiffs Troy and Jayzel Mattos, said that the case set precedent for Taser use. “We were certainly happy about the outcome. The settlement was simply an affirmation that the case would come out properly,” Seitz said.

Attorneys Monday confirmed the settlement amount after Maui County disclosed it to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser under state open records law.

Jayzel Mattos and her husband, Troy Mattos, sued the county and four police officers who went to the couple’s home after 11 p.m. Aug. 23, 2006, in response to a 911 call reporting a domestic disturbance. Police said Jayzel Mattos interfered with the arrest of her husband when she was Tased in the residence.

But an opinion by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which reviewed the case, said that Jayzel Mattos “posed no threat to the officers” who had gone to the home “to ensure her safety.”

While ruling that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity, the appeals court also found that the officers used excessive force against Jayzel Mattos.

Seitz said that after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case, the 9th Circuit ruling “dictated how police officers are to act in these circumstances.”

“Up until that point, there was not clear law as to what the standards were for using Tasers, but there’s now clear law,” he said. “We established the law for the 9th Circuit. It probably has ramifications way beyond the 9th Circuit.”

If the Taser incident had occurred after the ruling, Seitz said the individual police officers could have been sued for damages.

Attorneys had agreed to keep the settlement in the Mattoses’ case confidential.

But Seitz said that the settlement became a matter of public record when it was disclosed by the county.

He said it had been the county that wanted to keep the amount confidential. “I felt this is the kind of thing that is and should be a matter of public record,” Seitz said.

“If it were not a fair settlement, we would, under the circumstances, go back and retry the case,” Seitz said. “It would have been a daunting task for everybody. It would have been extremely expensive. It was better to settle it.”

He estimated plaintiff costs at “probably upwards of $40,000,” including trips to the Mainland for two arguments before the 9th Circuit Court. The amount doesn’t include the value of services, which Seitz said would probably be $200,000 or more.

Seitz said that the Mattoses would receive half of the settlement.

Despite the economic loss, Seitz said the case was worth pursuing. “We do them because they’re important to do,” he said.

The settlement was noted in federal court records on Oct. 11 and a stipulation to dismiss the case was filed Dec. 3.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Moana Lutey stressed that the settlement involved only Maui County and not the four police officers.

“The officers were exonerated by the 9th Circuit Court, so they were not a party to the settlement in any way,” she said.

She said U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Curren has maintained jurisdiction over the case.