Benzie County settles $195K traffic stop lawsuit

  • In US
  • 2022-09-24 12:37:00Z
  • By The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.

Sep. 24-GRAND RAPIDS - Benzie County officials agreed to pay $195,000 to a Benzonia man who sued the county in federal court after he accused a local law enforcement officer of violating his constitutional rights during a 2019 traffic stop.

Jeffrey Lasecki on Jan. 29, 2021, sued Benzie County and Matthew Weaver in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, seeking $75,000 plus court costs and attorney fees, court records show.

Lasecki recounts, in court documents, how a Benzie County Sheriff's deputy pulled him over for speeding in Thompsonville. After Lasecki showed the sheriff's deputy his driver's license, but did not remove it from his wallet and refused to hand it over, the deputy deployed a Taser at least twice and arrested him.

Michigan law states drivers must "display" their license to an officer.

The payment is part of a settlement agreement county commissioners approved in a 6-0 June vote - documents of which were provided in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

The deputy, Matthew Weaver, fired last year for reported disciplinary issues and accused misconduct regarding a search warrant in an unrelated case, was listed with the county as a defendant in the lawsuit, court records show.

The settlement agreement releases the county and Weaver from claims arising out of the incident and includes a "no admission of liability" clause, in which defendants deny allegations contained in the complaint.

Lasecki, as a result of the traffic stop by Weaver, previously had been charged with two felonies - assaulting, resisting, or obstructing a police officer and fleeing and eluding. But, at a preliminary hearing in October 2019, 85th District Court Judge John Mead dismissed the charges, court records show.

Mead watched Weaver's dash-cam video in court prior to dismissing the charges, a transcript of the hearing shows, and stated that Lasecki did produce his license to the officer.

"The video - there is no way this Court would uphold in binding over on this - because the video shows that he, several times and for several seconds, produced the driver's license," Mead said.

In January, Benzie County and Weaver, represented in the case by Allan Vander Laan of Cummings, McClorey, Davis & Acho, filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Weaver was protected by qualified immunity, that his uses of force were reasonable and that Lasecki had failed to show a constitutional violation by the county.

A motion for summary judgment is typically filed after discovery is completed, while a motion to dismiss is often filed shortly after the lawsuit begins, although both are efforts by a defendant or defendants to end a lawsuit before it goes to trial.

In Lasecki's lawsuit, the parties negotiated the settlement agreement prior to a judge ruling on the summary judgment motion, court records show.

Weaver, hired by the county in 2014, was fired Aug. 6 by Benzie County Sheriff Kyle Rosa, for entering a residence without a search warrant, failing to disclose information that may have resulted in the search warrant being denied and for "progressive discipline" - prior conduct unbecoming and neglect of duty violations - a memo that was previously provided shows.

Rosa on Thursday confirmed that Weaver is disputing his termination, has sought arbitration and a decision by the arbitrator is expected soon, possibly by the end of this month.

As for the Lasecki lawsuit, Rosa said he's glad the case is concluded.

In July 2021, Benzie County Prosecutor Sara Swanson had sent a memo to defense attorneys representing clients with a pending case in which Weaver was either listed as a witness or investigator, records show.

The memo referenced two U.S. Supreme Court cases, Brady v. Maryland, decided in 1963, and United States v. Giglio, decided in 1972, which ruled police are part of the prosecution team and must disclose any evidence that could be favorable to the defense or used to impeach the credibility of a witness.

Counties with larger populations maintain "Brady and Giglio lists" of officers with credibility issues, Swanson previously said, but this is the only time she sent such a memo since running for office in 2012.

Weaver's personnel records show that, in April, he and another deputy were dispatched to an apartment on Scenic Highway in the Village of Elberta to investigate a domestic dispute which reportedly escalated into someone running their car into the building.

Weaver is accused of entering the apartment through a window - without a search warrant - and of opening a top dresser drawer where he found white powder on a mirror, Benzie County Sheriff's Office documents state. The documents state Weaver also reportedly saw a corked glass vial on the floor of the bedroom with white residue inside.

Another officer secured a search warrant from an 85th District Court judge for the apartment that same day, which, records show, did not include Weaver disclosing he'd entered the apartment without a search warrant or that he'd opened the dresser drawer to find evidence of what he suspected were drugs.

Rosa assigned Undersheriff Greg Hubers to conduct an internal investigation and requested an investigation by the Michigan Sheriffs Association, which, in June 2021, sent a mission team to Beulah.

The team shared their report with Swanson, who expressed concerns about Weaver's actions, but declined to file charges, stating she did not believe her office could prove a crime had been committed.

The disclosure memo was later sent to defense attorneys with pending cases, records show.

Swanson said, of the approximately 20 cases she reviewed in which Weaver was the arresting officer, a witness or both, most were able to be independently verified and proceeded through the court system.

"Most of the time there's more than one officer on scene, so we had another witness, or say in the case of an assault, he might have been the arresting officer but we still had a victim," Swanson said.

Swanson said two low-level misdemeanor cases were dismissed after she sent the memo. These were traffic cases, such as driving on a suspended license, she said.


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