City of Eau Claire to pay over $1M to settle civil rights lawsuits

Local News

EAU CLAIRE, Wisc. (WLAX) — The City of Eau Claire will pay out more than $1 million to settle two federal civil rights lawsuits accusing police officers of using excessive force. The City’s insurance company approved the settlements for Tyler Holte and Chester Stabenow.

Despite the settlements, Deputy City Attorney Douglas Hoffer maintained the civil rights of neither man were violated.

“Because litigation is time consuming and expensive and carries some risk of expensive judgment, particularly in the current environment that we’re experiencing, insurance companies make the decision like they did in this case, to settle a case,” Hoffer said.

The largest payment will go to Holte, who will receive $725,000 after being shot by former officer Hunter Braatz on April 1, 2015. Braatz resigned in good standing in 2016 and was cleared of wrongdoing by the Wisconsin Department of Justice and the Eau Claire County District Attorney.

“On April 1, 2015, our officers dealt with a very dangerous and volatile situation created by the actions of Tyler Holte,” Police Chief Matt Rokus. “Our officers conducted themselves admirably, and I’m very thankful for the work they did that day.”

Holte’s lawyer, Jeff Scott Olson, said his client is satisfied with the settlement; however, he disagrees with Rokus’ assessment of the incident.

“He didn’t threaten to harm anybody but himself,” Olson said. “He didn’t harm anybody but himself and he wasn’t armed.”

Holte’s mother had told police she thought her son had a weapon adding that he said “they’re going to have to shoot me.”

The Stabenow case was settled for $325,000.

Former officer Michael McClain was seen on video hitting Stabenow after he resisted officers on March 24, 2017. While the City did not admit wrongdoing, Chief Rokus said McClain’s actions did not meet the department’s standards.

“The dialogue and verbalization leading up to Stabenow becoming resistive could have been better,” Rokus said. “When Stabenow decided to be resistive with our officers, there were a number of other use of force intervention options that would have been better.”

Rokus said a key to use of force training is critical thinking.

McClain resigned from the department following an internal review of the incident.

Stabenow’s attorney said she was surprised by Rokus’ statement on McClain’s actions not meeting department standards because a Use of Force Review in the case concluded his actions were in line with the department’s policy.

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