Claim seeks $100,000 after county arrest error

A man arrested in Sultan last October on a canceled warrant from Island County is seeking $100,000 in damages from the county.

The claim, filed by Michael Meloni with Island County's Risk Management Division late January last year, demands Meloni be reimbursed for "embarrassment, inconvenience and costs of vehicle impound, transportation, lost time and bond posted." The arrest warrant was canceled in 1997 but remained as an active file.

Island County Risk Manager Betty Kemp initially recommended that the Island County Board of Commissioners deny Meloni's claim. In her assessment of the claim, Kemp writes that the basis for Meloni's claim is negligence on the part of the prosecuting attorney.

"The quashing of a warrant is a discretionary act that is completed within the scope of the prosecutor's lawful duties," Kemp argues, adding that this makes him "absolutely immune from suit."

However, after submitting her recommendation to the board, Kemp immediately withdrew it for further consideration, saying she wanted to do "some more homework" on it.

Since then, Kemp has passed Meloni's claim on to the Washington Counties Risk Pool for further review. The risk pool is a collective liability insurer for counties that is overseen by the state's risk manager.

"It was complex," Kemp said last week. "I thought we really needed to get all the particulars. I also wanted another opinion."

The particulars of Meloni's claim stretch back to July 1995, when he was charged with two counts of second-degree theft. Meloni waived his right to counsel and was arraigned on one of the felony counts. Then, in February 1996, Meloni notified the court that he had moved to Utah.

After failing to appear for a readiness hearing, a warrant was issued for Meloni's arrest on Sept. 9, 1996. Both charges were dismissed in 1997.

However, no one filed a motion to quash Meloni's warrant, and no Superior Court judge moved to quash it.

Meloni was stopped for speeding by an officer in Sultan last October. When the officer discovered an outstanding warrant, Meloni was arrested, after which his car was searched and impounded. The officer issued Meloni a citation for $276.

In his claim, Meloni, who says he is a consultant for Microsoft Great Plains Accounting Software in Bellevue, recites a long list of grievances.

"I was severely embarrassed by being handcuffed, searched and placed into the patrol car in front of a large group of onlookers who were having a party," Meloni claims. "This incident has damaged by reputations amongst my peers and client in irreparable ways and caused my emotional, and financial distress in the amounts claimed below."

Kemp said the risk pool, which has a $10,000 deductible, should have a recommendation on Meloni's claim in a couple of weeks.

"Of course," Kemp said, "if we're too slow and he thinks we're too slow and 60 days have gone by, he would have to file a lawsuit."

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