Lawsuit dropped in road-rage incident involving Ore. officer
Case stemmed from a road-rage encounter in 2011 between an off-duty officer and an Idaho motorist
By Maxine Bernstein
PORTLAND — Attorneys for an Idaho man who sued Portland police Lt. Todd Wyatt, and for Wyatt who filed counterclaims, have agreed to drop their respective claims in Multnomah County Circuit Court.
The case stemmed from a road-rage encounter in 2011 between Wyatt, who was off-duty and headed home from vacation with his family, and Idaho motorist Nicholas Cox.
Cox had filed suit against Wyatt and the city of Portland last summer, accusing Wyatt of assault in the encounter and seeking $255,000 in damages. Wyatt filed counterclaims against Cox, alleging Cox was the aggressor in the road confrontation. Wyatt sought $831,602 in damages for assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress and malicious prosecution.
Jason Kafoury, one of Cox's attorneys, said Cox decided not to go forward after learning that the city likely would be removed as a defendant and Wyatt's car insurance would not cover any civil damages.
"Our client didn't want to go against Mr. Wyatt's personal assets," Kafoury said.
Wyatt was demoted from captain to lieutenant in December 2012, partly due to the confrontation in Idaho.
An Idaho jury in 2012 acquitted Wyatt of a criminal charge, exhibition of a firearm, in the clash. But a Portland police internal affairs inquiry found Wyatt acted inappropriately by displaying his gun to Cox and his passenger, and that he should have pulled to the side of the road or called 911.
According to trial testimony, Wyatt was driving home in his blue F-150 pickup with his family from an Idaho vacation on Aug. 13, 2011, when he and Cox were trying to merge onto Interstate 90 west. Cox, at trial, admitted he drove past Wyatt's pickup truck on the freeway's on-ramp because it was traveling too slowly, and he merged into the left lane of the two-lane freeway. Wyatt testified that he swerved to avert an accident with Cox's 2010 Toyota Camry.
According to Cox, Wyatt's truck was tailgating him after the near collision and then rode up beside his car in the right lane. Cox testified at trial that he saw the driver wave a gun in the driver's window. When he saw the gun's barrel, he said, he "became very scared," sped up, moved to the right lane and called 911.
Wyatt said he held up his police badge and holstered revolver, with the muzzle pointed down at the floor of his pickup. He testified that he intended to scare off the driver who cut him off twice and kept braking in front of him. Wyatt's wife and daughter, then 16, were in the truck.
The trial revealed that Wyatt did not pull over right away when three Washington State Patrol cars tried to stop his truck. He drove another half-mile to three-quarters of a mile on Interstate 90 and took the next off-ramp, where he stopped, turned off his engine and held his police badge and car keys out his window.
A Portland police review board that examined the incident voiced concern about Wyatt's "quick temper," his failure to de-escalate the conflict and his poor judgment for not calling law enforcement himself.
Wyatt served as captain of the traffic division at the time of the Idaho encounter. He is now serving as a day-shift patrol lieutenant in North Precinct. He has challenged his demotion before a state arbitrator and is awaiting a decision.
Copyright 2014 The Oregonian
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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