By Alan Keays/VTDigger
RUTLAND – A former Rutland woman has filed a lawsuit against the city, its police department and one of its officers, alleging the officer used excessive force in taking her into custody, slamming her to the ground leading to a concussion and other injuries.
The officer, in an affidavit in support of the disorderly conduct charge brought against the woman and later dismissed, wrote that she was so drunk she couldn’t stand up and fell down when he walked around the side his cruiser and tried to put her inside the vehicle.Dash cam video from the officer’s cruiser does not show the moment when the incident is alleged to have occurred on the side of the cruiser. The camera is focused straight ahead through the windshield.
Chelsea Smith-Wallett, 26, is seeking unspecified damages for injuries she said she suffered at the hands of Officer Ryan Ashe as he took her into custody early on the morning of July 24, 2015, in downtown Rutland on a charge of disorderly conduct, according to the lawsuit.
Attorney Matthew Hart, who is representing Smith-Wallett, filed the lawsuit in federal court last week, the third case he has brought against city police in about a year.
“I realized [Ashe] had a past and realized I needed to do something about this,” Smith-Wallett said in an interview Tuesday explaining why she was bringing the lawsuit.
“If he keeps getting away with treating people like this it could end up a lot worse,” she said. “I don’t want him seriously injuring someone.”
Ashe is the subject of another lawsuit brought by Hart. In that case, filed last year and also brought in federal court, Kevin Elnicki, a local businessman, alleges that Ashe pointed a gun at him, dragged him out of his truck and slammed his head on the ground during a traffic stop.
The city has filed an answer denying the allegations and that case remains pending. There was no dash cam in Ashe’s cruiser at that time of that incident.
Rutland City Attorney Matthew Bloomer said Tuesday that the latest case would be forwarded to the city’s insurance company, which is handled through the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. An attorney for that insurance company will then be assigned to the case.
Bloomer said he couldn’t comment beyond a single statement, “The City just received the complaint on Monday and plans to review its contents with defense counsel in the near future.”
Ashe could not be reached for comment, and attempts to contact him through the city attorney were not successful.
He is currently a city police officer who is assigned to the Rutland County State’s Attorney’s Office as a domestic violence investigator.
Hart wrote in the lawsuit filed last week that at about 1:24 a.m. on July 24, 2015, Smith-Wallett was sitting on the corner of Wales and Center streets smoking a cigarette with her friends and her brother when she was approached by Ashe.
Ashe had initially driven around the corner then drove back around, pulled over, got out of his cruiser and began asking Smith-Wallett questions, according a video taken from a camera on the dashboard of his cruiser.
“Ashe asked [Smith-Wallett] what was going on and then advised her that she had too much to drink and that she was passed out on the sidewalk,” the lawsuit stated. “[Smith-Wallett] and her friends advised Officer Ashe that she was just sitting down and that they were just smoking a cigarette and getting ready to head home.”
She also told Ashe that she was not driving and that she was going to home with her brother, who was also there, according to the filing.
“Officer Ashe then told [Smith-Wallett] that she was drunk in public, passed out on the sidewalk and that she can ‘do this the easy way or the hard way,’” according to the lawsuit.
Ashe then brought the her to the front of his cruiser and put her in handcuffs.
After handcuffing her, Ashe “forcibly moved” Smith-Wallett toward the back of the cruiser, according to the filing.
“While this was happening, [Smith-Wallett] was pleading with Officer Ashe to let her go home with her brother at which time Officer Ashe became angry and slammed [Smith-Wallett] to the ground causing [Smith-Wallet’s] head to hit the ground along with her right knee,” the lawsuit stated.
Ashe arrested Smith-Wallett for disorderly conduct, alleging that she was abusive and used obscene language in public, according to the lawsuit.
“At no time during the course of the incident did [Smith-Wallett] pose a threat to the safety of Officer Ashe or the public,” according to the lawsuit.
At the police station, Smith-Wallett agreed to take a breath test, which registered a 0.256 blood-alcohol level — the legal limit to drive in Vermont 0.08. She told the officer she had no intention of driving, saying that all along the plan was for her brother, who was sober, to take her home.
After processing at the police station, police took Smith-Wallett to Grace House, a facility in Rutland, until she was sober enough to be released.
Smith-Wallett said in interview Tuesday that later that morning she went to Rutland Regional Medical Center where it was revealed she had suffered a mild concussion as well as other injuries, including bruises to her arms and a large scrape on her knee.
The attorney added that Smith-Wallett was not passed out on the sidewalk, but instead was sitting on the ground smoking a cigarette when first spotted by Ashe as he drove by in a cruiser.
Ashe, in his police affidavit, wrote that she was lying “face first on the sidewalk” with several people standing around when he first saw her.
After he drove forward a bit and then turned around and parked her cruiser she had gotten up and was standing, swaying back and forth, the affidavit stated.
He wrote that he asked Smith-Wallett how much she had to drink and she replied, “A little bit,” though she appeared to be “heavily” intoxicated.
He tried to take her into “protective custody” because of her intoxication and walked her to the front of his cruiser, according to the affidavit.
“The female began to passively resist my control and pulled her arms away,” Ashe wrote, telling him, ‘Can you not put your hands on me,’” the affidavit stated. “At that time I used a control technique to escort the female to the front of my patrol car.”
The female continued to passively resist my control and was pulling away from me,” the affidavit stated. “I had to force the female to walk to the rear of my patrol car to place her in the back seat.”
At one point, Ashe wrote, “she broke free” from him and tried to walk away.
“Due to the female’s intoxication and unsteadiness on her feet, she fell to the ground,” he wrote. “I assisted the female off of the ground and I ordered the female to stop and sit down.”
He then put her in the police car and decided to charge her with disorderly conduct, according to the affidavit.
Smith-Wallett, in the interview Tuesday from her home in Charleston, South Carolina, where she now resides, denied trying to break free from the officer. She said she tried to go around the officer.