A former Navy man who was injured in a police-involved shooting that killed another man on Whidbey Island three years ago has filed a lawsuit in federal court against Island County and two law enforcement officers.
In May, Heath Garcia and his wife filed a tort claim against the county, demanding $20 million in damages. Garcia’s attorney, Jay Krulewitch of Seattle, said he never heard a response from the county and so has filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court last week.
The lawsuit makes claims under both state and federal law, including allegations of civil rights violations.
Mike Hawley, a former lieutenant with the Island County Sheriff’s Office, and Deputy Robert Mirabal were singled out as defendants in the lawsuit.
“He loved being in the Navy,” Krulewitch said about his client. “He enjoyed it. He’s the kind of person you want in the military, and it all got taken away from him.”
Police officers and other government employees have qualified immunity, which is a doctrine that protects them from civil liability unless they violated a clearly established constitutional or statutory right.
Questions about the limits of qualified immunity have been widely discussed in recent months in connection with police excessive force cases.
Garcia was shot above the ankle during the Sept. 17, 2017 incident and badly injured, ending his career as a master at arms chief petty officer four years short of retirement, according to his attorney.
The incident began when Nicholas Perkins, also a member of the Navy, barricaded himself in his North Whidbey home.
Perkins was armed with an AR-15 and suicidal, leading to a standoff with deputies, according to an analysis of the shooting by Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks. He declined to charge anyone.
Garcia was friends with Perkins and left his post at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island to go to the scene. He initially went into the house without permission from Hawley, who was the scene commander, Banks wrote.
Later Hawley acquiesced and allowed Garcia to go in and out of the house, acting as a go-between for Perkins and the police, according to Banks.
Perkins eventually came out of his house armed with a shotgun and yelled at the police to leave.
Garcia abruptly grabbed Perkins, and Mirabal tackled them both to the ground. Krulewitch faults Mirabal for tackling the men while armed with a rifle, but Banks concluded that it was unreasonable for Mirabal to remove his rifle and give it to someone in the short amount he had to react. Banks wrote that his “instantaneous decision” was justified.
During a struggle, Perkins started firing Mirabal’s rifle, striking Garcia and “nearly blowing his foot off,” Krulewitch said.
Another deputy shot and killed Perkins. Banks concluded that any person would have been justified under the law in using lethal force against Perkins.
“This is an incident that never should have happened,” Krulewitch said in an interview.
“The scene should have been run by a SWAT team and a crisis negotiator,” he said, “and they had neither.”
Citing a news story about county budget shortfalls, Krulewitch said the county’s decision to cut the SWAT team breached its duty to the citizens.
The suit claimed law enforcement was guilty of being “grossly negligent and reckless” for allowing Garcia to go in and out of the house.
Garcia was medically separated from the Navy because of the injury, Krulewitch said.
The lawsuit claims outrage, negligence, “state created danger” and violations of Garcia’s Fourth and 14th Amendment rights.