County pays $520,000 to settle excessive force, false imprisonment lawsuit

FLINT, MI – Genesee County has agreed to pay $520,000 to settle a lawsuit over a woman’s claim she was illegally arrested, searched and beaten by Genesee County Sheriff’s deputies after she came to pick up a friend from the county jail in 2011.

Kimberly Wheeler alleged in her lawsuit she went to the Genesee County Jail on March 8, 2011, to pick up a friend who needed a ride home, according to her federal lawsuit filed against the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office and six deputies in 2013 in Detroit U.S. District Court.

MLive-The Flint Journal obtained details of the settlement through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Genesee County Undersheriff Chris Swanson says the settlement was reached because the county was advised to do so by its insurance company.

The county does not admit any fault in the settlement.

When arriving at the jail March 8, 2011, Wheeler hit an occupied vehicle while trying to parallel park, according to her lawyer Joseph Corriveau.

Wheeler and the woman in the vehicle that she hit began arguing, Corriveau said. Wheeler eventually went into the jail to pick up her friend and provide information to sheriff’s deputies for a crash report.

While Deputy Michael Cherry took a crash report from Wheeler, Lt. Michael Tocarchick told Wheeler she would not be allowed to drive her vehicle from the jail because Tocarchick thought Wheeler was under the influence of narcotics.

Tocarchick then seized Wheeler’s purse and a search revealed pill containers with medicine that Wheeler had valid prescriptions for, according to the lawsuit.

Court records show Wheeler allegedly told deputies she took a prescribed Vicodin at 7 a.m. and it was because of that admission and her disorderly demeanor that police detained her.

Wheeler said she never admitted to taking the drugs and was not disorderly.

However, Wheeler told Tocarchick she was tired from working the night shift and that she didn’t drink alcohol, the lawsuit claims.

“There was no sobriety testing,” Corriveau said.

Tocarchick then allegedly took Wheeler’s keys and said she would have to call someone for a ride.

Wheeler objected because her medications were valid, she took the pills as prescribed and her ability to drive was not impaired.

“Because they took her keys and she would have had no way to get to work – she ratcheted it up,” Corriveau said of his client.

Deputies then took Wheeler from the jail lobby to the squad room to call for a ride. Wheeler continued to complain about the situation, the lawsuit claims.

Sgt. Gerald Parks allegedly then told Wheeler she was under arrest for being a disorderly person, the lawsuit claims.

Parks allegedly pushed Wheeler, which caused her to fall and sustain injuries.

Wheeler’s fingernail was ripped off and she had bruises on her wrists, elbows and knees, Corriveau said.

Lt. Michael Chatterson jumped in and tackled Wheeler to the ground to handcuff her while she was being searched by female deputies, the lawsuit claims.

Corriveau said Wheeler hit her head during the exchange.

“She’s fearful of the police because of this situation,” he said.

The county denied requests from Corriveau and MLive-The Flint Journal for surveillance video of the incident, claiming it did not exist.

Wheeler was eventually released from the Genesee County Jail 26 hours after she was originally detained, but was never formally charged or went before a judge, Corriveau said.

Swanson said the woman was arrested for hitting a vehicle, trying to leave the scene and then for being intoxicated.

“She was in custody, but all that they claimed in the complaint didn’t happen,” Swanson said. “When the case is taken out of your hands and put in the insurance company’s hands, you lose control. We didn’t settle because we knew what the plaintiff said in the case wasn’t true.”

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