MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

March 14, 2012

City settles civil rights suit

Man mauled by police dog gets confidential settlement

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Lawyers representing the city of Muskogee settled a civil rights lawsuit filed by a man mauled by a police dog while officers allegedly watched with amusement.

Terms of the settlement were unknown Tuesday because of a nondisclosure agreement. But lawyers representing both sides confirmed the settlement.

The lawsuit was filed by Larry Eugene Chaplin, who alleges two Muskogee police officers used excessive force during a July 2009 arrest. The  Muskogee Police Department was named as a defendant for its alleged failure to train its officers and establishing a policy that allows officers to deprive citizens of their constitutional rights.

Chaplin, who pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges resulting from the arrest, alleges he was handcuffed and on the ground when police unleashed a canine unit. According to the petition, Muskogee Police Officers Micah Fleak and William Peters stood by and watched in “amusement” as the dog repeatedly attacked Chaplin.

“We were scheduled to start trial yesterday, but we settled prior to the beginning of trial,” said Chris Blankenship, who represents Chaplin. “All I can say, because of our confidentiality agreement, is the case did settle.”

City Attorney Roy Tucker said the settlement, whatever that turns out to be, will be paid by the city’s insurer. The only cost to the city, Tucker said, would be any deductible owed, which is $1,000 per claim.

“Since it is under the insurance claim, we don’t have any say in whether it settles or goes to trial,” Tucker said. “As far as I know, there was no admission of wrongdoing.”

Muskogee Police Chief Rex Eskridge said the officers named in the lawsuit violated no departmental policies or laws.

“As far as we’re concerned, there was no misconduct on the part of the officers at all,” Eskridge said. “We stand by our guns on that.”

Blankenship, in court documents, stated Chaplin’s injuries — dog bites to his arms, legs and torso — required numerous sutures that resulted with “permanent disfigurement.” Those injuries, Blankenship said, will “require extensive medical treatment in the future.”

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.