JOHNSON COUNTY– A North Liberty man has filed a lawsuit against the City of North Liberty, five of its police officers, Johnson County and a reserve Sheriff’s Deputy, alleging use of excessive force.
According to documents filed in the Sixth District Judicial Court, on June 9, 2007, Joshua N. Thomas, 35, was watching a music concert at the North Liberty Fun Days. At approximately 12:30 a.m., a fight broke out between a man and woman attending the concert. When Thomas separated the two, Officer Tim Gavin grabbed Thomas from behind and put him in a chokehold. The suit alleges Gavin did not identify himself and was not dressed in a standard police officer uniform. Because Thomas did not know who placed him in a chokehold, he resisted Officer Gavin’s attempt to restrain him.
At that time, Johnson County Reserve Deputy Sheriff Joshua Gersten arrived on the scene to assist Officer Gavin. Thomas stated in the lawsuit that when he saw Deputy Gersten, he thought Gersten was coming to help free him, as he was still under the impression he was being attacked. Instead of freeing Thomas from the chokehold, Officer Gersten and North Liberty Police Officer Chuck Tygart allegedly grabbed Thomas’ arms and deployed a Taser on his chest, causing him to lose muscle and sensory control and incapacitating him. Thomas landed with one arm free and one arm pinned under his body.
According to the petition, the officers placed handcuffs on Thomas’ free hand, while at least one officer pinned Thomas to the ground by placing his weight on Thomas’ back. When Thomas became aware that the individuals he thought were attacking him were officers, according to the lawsuit, he did not desire or intend to resist them.
Thomas stated he then remembers hearing an officer yell, “Taser! Taser! Taser!” to which Thomas responded, “No!” A second Taser was deployed, this one to Thomas’ spine. When officers commanded Thomas to free the hand from under his body, Thomas states he was physically unable to comply because of the weight of the officer on top of him. North Liberty Police officers Jess Bernhard, Adam Olson, and Officer Luke Hruby arrived at the scene. The officers deployed a Taser to Thomas two more times: once to his hamstring and once to his back. The lawsuits claim each of the four Taser deployments caused Thomas “excruciating pain and caused his muscles to stiffen and spasm, incapacitating Thomas and making it impossible for him to control his body.”
Deputy Gersten then transported Thomas to the Johnson County Jail. According to Officer Gersten’s report, Thomas was “very cooperative and polite” during the pat down and transport.
Thomas was charged with Interference with Official Acts and Disorderly Conduct. The latter charge was dropped before trial. On November 21, 2007, Thomas was found not guilty of the charge of Interference with Official Acts. The lawsuit claims the Taser deployments on Thomas’ body caused significant muscle and ligament damage, from which Thomas continues to experience pain and discomfort.
Also according the document, Thomas was the designated driver so he consumed no alcohol before or during the event on June 9.
North Liberty City Administrator Ryan Heiar said as of Friday, May 22, the City had not been served the documents related to the litigation; therefore, city officials were unable to comment.