08/21/2007

State clears Utah officer who scrapped with 70-year-old woman

By Erin Alberty
The Salt Lake Tribune 

OREM, Utah Investigators have vindicated an Orem police officer after he arrested a 70-year-old woman who was injured during a confrontation with him over her failure to water her lawn, according to a state review released Monday.

In the report, the Utah Department of Public Safety found that Betty Perry resisted arrest July 6 and that "the injuries ... were a direct result of her stated intention to not cooperate with police officers."

Officer James Flygare arrested Perry on July 6 at her Orem home after he cited her for violating a city ordinance with dead grass and foot-tall weeds in her yard, the report states. During the arrest, Perry's nose was cut open and her knees and hands were scraped. She was taken to jail, where administrators soon released her.

Her arrest and injuries attracted national media attention and led to a public apology by the city.

But investigators said Flygare's tactics "were necessary to gain physical control of Ms. Perry and to prevent escalation of the incident."

In the report, Flygare and Perry gave investigators differing accounts of what happened.

Flygare said Perry refused to water the yard or provide her name and personal information for the citation. He said he was holding her hand and being pulled by Perry as she tried to walk inside her home to call her son. Perry tripped at the front door and fell against the door jam, Flygare said. She then screamed for help and lay down on the ground with her hands under her, causing her hands to be scraped when he pulled them out to cuff them, Flygare said.

However, Perry said Flygare did not identify himself as a police officer and used excessive force when he cuffed her right wrist. She also said Flygare conferred with backup officers to "get their stories straight" and claimed she refused to cooperate because "she did not think the events that transpired at her home were proper," the report states.

Perry said her nose was injured in a scuffle when Flygare tried to secure the handcuffs and claimed she collapsed because of stress. She denied holding her hands beneath her to keep Flygare from cuffing them.

She also said she has not gotten the help she has requested from the city and local nonprofit groups to maintain her yard - a claim state investigators called "suspect" in light of statements by officials with those organizations, who said they had offered to help her.

Gloria Allred, the Los Angeles-based attorney representing Perry, said the state's report was not an impartial investigation.

"We feel that it is clearly biased against Betty," Allred said. "It appears that law enforcement is out to get Betty, a 70-year-old great-grandmother who was simply trying to lead a quiet life."

Allred would not say whether she and Perry were considering a lawsuit against the city over the incident.

Orem police Lt. Doug Edwards said the department "maintained from the beginning the administration's belief that there were other ways to handle this situation short of taking Betty Perry to jail."

Flygare will return to his normal duties today with the Neighborhood Preservation Unit, the department's blight and code enforcement division, Edwards said. He said "appropriate supervisory actions have been taken" but would not elaborate on those actions.

"Officer James Flygare is a valued member of our department and has been recognized by the community for his valor and outstanding service to the public," Edwards said in a press release. Investigators wrote that Flygare has been an officer in the Orem department for seven years and worked for the Pleasant Grove Police Department about four years before joining the Orem police.

Police have forwarded their allegations of Perry's ordinance violations to the Orem City Attorney's Office.

Copyright 2007 The Salt Lake Tribune

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