Judge denies city’s motion for new trial in Ostling case

By Tad Sooter | The Kitsap Sun

TACOMA — A federal judge Friday denied the city of Bainbridge Island’s request for a new trial in a lawsuit brought by the family of Douglas Ostling, a mentally ill man shot and killed by Bainbridge police in 2010. The judge also denied the city’s motion to stay a jury’s award of $1 million to the Ostling family.

At a Wednesday hearing, lawyers for the city argued a retrial was justified, as then-Bainbridge Police Chief Jon Fehlman was ill during the trial and unable to testify. They also argued the verdict was not lawful. The June 1 jury decision found the officers were not liable in the shooting, but determined the city and Fehlman had failed train them properly.

In his decision Friday, U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton wrote city lawyers didn’t establish what relevant evidence Fehlman would have presented on training. He noted the city could have presented another official to testify on training procedures but did not.

Leighton rejected the city’s argument that the city and Fehlman could not be held liable without the officer involved in the shooting also being liable. Leighton wrote the jury had sufficient evidence to determine the city and Fehlman’s failure to properly train the officers had led them to “forcibly and needlessly” confront Ostling.

The jury awarded $1 million to Ostling’s family, including $200,00 to the Ostling estate and $400,000 to each of his parents, Bill and Joyce Ostling.

Nathan Roberts, attorney for the Ostlings, said Leighton’s decision was a clear endorsement of the jury’s finding that inadequate training played a direct role in the shooting.

“The family is hopeful the law enforcement community will heed the message,” he said Friday.

Bainbridge Officers Jeff Benkert and David Portrey responded to the Ostlings’ Bainbridge home on Oct. 26, 2010, after Douglas Ostling called 911 and made incoherent statements. The officers told Ostling’s parents they needed to check on him and were given a key to his apartment.

When officers tried to enter his apartment, Ostling flung open the door while holding an ax. After Portrey fired a Taser, to no effect, Benkert fired three shots, striking Ostling twice in the leg. Ostling closed the door and bled to death in the room.

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