2011-01-12 / Front Page

False arrest suit ends in settlement

A Sandusky man has won a cash settlement in his false arrest lawsuit against Sanilac County and Sheriff Sgt. Jim Wagester.

U.S. District Court Judge Patrick Duggan ordered the case dismissed last October after the parties reached an agreement in the 2007 lawsuit.

The amount paid to Alan Miller of Sandusky was less than $25,000, according to John Males, county administrator. Males declined to release the exact figure, citing attorney-client confidentiality. A Freedom of Information request by the News for the letter from the county’s insurance company reporting the settlement was also denied for the same reason.

Males said the company, St. Paul Travelers, negotiated the out-of-court settlement through its attorney.

The lawsuit stemmed from a Feb. 2006 traffic stop when Miller, then 17, was arrested by Wagester. Miller filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Nov., 2007, claiming his constitutional rights were violated in the arrest for which traffic tickets and criminal charges were later dismissed after test results showed he was sober at the time of the arrest. He also alleged Wagester slammed him against his vehicle and kicked his legs during the arrest, and claimed the handcuffs were too tight.

Miller was pulled over by Wagester for running a stop sign. Miller claimed he couldn’t stop at the intersection because of the ice. Wagester, who was in the area because of reports of an underage drinking party, claimed he smelled alcohol on Miller’s breath, that Miller failed four of five field sobriety tests, his eyes were “glazed or glassy”, and he refused a preliminary breath test but agreed to a blood-alcohol test.

Wagester wrote seven tickets against Miller: reckless driving, refusal to submit to a breath test, minor in possession, 0.02% blood-alcohol no-tolerance law violation, no proof of insurance, no proof of registration, and failure to use a seatbelt.

Miller’s blood-alcohol lab results came back the following week as 0.0%, and in April 2006 all charges were dismissed at the request of then Sheriff Virgil Strickler. A few days later, Wagester requested the lab test Miller’s blood for controlled substances, which also came back negative.

In Feb. 2009, the U.S. District Court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgement and dismissed the the case.

Miller appealed the decision, and in June 2010 the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed part of the summary judgement, sending the following claims back to U.S. District Court that ended in the settlement: federal claims of malicious prosecution for criminal charges of unlawful arrest and excessive force - slamming him against the vehicle and kicking his legs; and state claims of false arrest/false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and assault and battery.

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