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Veteran files suit against Louisville police

Jan. 26, 2013 - 04:40PM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 26, 2013 - 04:40PM  |  
Lt. Col. Donald Settle
Lt. Col. Donald Settle (Matt Stone / The Courier-Journal)
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A Kentucky National Guard lieutenant colonel has filed a lawsuit against several Louisville Metro Police officers, alleging he was assaulted and wrongfully detained when they took him to the ground and handcuffed him after a confrontation in January 2012.

Lt. Col. Donald Blake Settle claims he was stopped as he tried to leave Mid City Mall on Jan. 29, with one officer eventually pulling a Taser on him before he was forced face-down onto the concrete and restrained, according to the lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Jefferson Circuit Court.

Police have said they believed Settle was a homeless panhandler because his clothes were dusty, he had difficulty speaking and he couldn't provide his address.

In an interview in September, Settle, a Purple Heart and multiple Bronze Star recipient, said he has a poor memory and difficulty speaking as the result of injuries, including a traumatic brain injury, incurred in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan and a vehicle rollover.

His case resulted in an internal police investigation, sharp questioning from Fort Knox officials and a new mandatory training program for police on how to deal with military veterans with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The lawsuit claims officers threatened to arrest Settle without any probable cause, refused to answer his questions, restrained him on the ground and wouldn't give him any water.

The suit also claims Settle was forced to leave the mall for no reason and then police failed to properly file a report.

Police would not comment Thursday because the suit is pending. But in September, metro police Lt. Col. Vince Robison told the newspaper that the officers claimed Settle acted aggressively toward them and "they felt there was an imminent assault that was going to occur."

"We have different sides of a story," he said in September. "Traumatic brain injury or not, if there is a fear of an imminent assault, they need to react."

Settle has said he was dusty from doing remodeling work and had stopped to chat with someone he knew at a wine tasting in the mall's atrium. Officer Daniel English thought he was acting strangely, according to Robison.

Settle, who had recently moved to a home outside Elizabethtown, couldn't remember his address when English asked.

Settle has said he told the officer he had been evacuated from Afghanistan with brain trauma and memory issues, and the officer told him he needed to leave the mall.

When the officer asked for identification, Settle has said that he reached for his wallet, which he kept in his front pocket because he was wearing a cast on one arm, and "the next thing I know he's grabbing the back of my arm and telling me to get my hand out of my pocket and up in the air where he can see it."

"When I look around he had his Taser right in my face," Settle has said, claiming he again asked to speak with a police supervisor and told the officer he could verify that he was a soldier in the Wounded Warrior program. Robison confirmed the officer twice pulled his Taser but did not use it.

After Settle was escorted outside, he said he placed his military ID on the ground, as the officer had a Taser pointed at him, and was approached by several other officers, and told them he was a soldier with a brain injury.

Settle said he saw one officer give a signal and they "took me down hard," putting him face down on the ground and with his hands handcuffed behind his back for about 15 minutes.

But eventually, after calling officials at Fort Knox, Settle said, police officers came back to him, referred to him as "colonel" and thanked him for his contribution to the country.

Settle said he still was told to leave the mall.

Robison said that, while officers cannot restrict a citizen from property without the owner's request, it is common on "trouble runs" in which there is a conflict to remove the person.

An internal investigation into the officers' conduct ended with exonerations.

The officers named in the suit are Trey McKinley, Benjamin Klingenfus, Donald Pugh, Jeremy Linton, English and Joseph Vidourek as well as Sgt. Kirby Shobe.

The suit is seeking compensatory and punitive damages and a trial by jury.

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