By Sharna Johnson: CNJ Staff Writer
The city of Clovis settled lawsuits totaling almost half a million dollars in recent months, according to documents released Tuesday by city officials.
The city’s insurer paid $448,500 to the family of a 3-year-old child who drowned in July 2005 at the city’s Potter Park pool, according to documents. And the city paid $18,500 to a Colorado man who claimed his civil rights were violated during a traffic stop by a Clovis police officer in 2004 documents show.
City officials initially refused to release settlement terms in both cases. They relented this week after the Clovis News Journal filed a formal request, citing New Mexico’s Open Records Act.
Jequon Haynes of Dallas was visiting his grandmother in Clovis when he drowned.
The city paid $358,500 to the toddler’s mother, Angela Davis, and $90,000 to the child’s father, Ray Haynes, the documents showed.
The Haynes case was dismissed from federal court Jan. 23, records show.
Clovis City Manager Joe Thomas said the death of Haynes at the pool did have an impact on city management and policy, triggering changes in the day-to-day operations of the pool.
“The drowning certainly has made us much more cognizant (regarding) the operation of the pool. The (traffic stop case) is an isolated claim where the officer involved is no longer employed with the city,” he said.
The second settlement payment went to Charles Middleton, a Colorado resident who levied a civil rights lawsuit against the city, the Clovis Police Department and former Officer David Lester.
Middleton said Lester taunted and injured him when he handcuffed him too tightly during an August 2004 traffic stop, according to a civil complaint.
Lester said he wasn’t surprised that the city chose to settle the lawsuit because the tendency is to do that even if a claim is not valid.
He declined to comment on the reasons he no longer is with the department.
Claims are paid by the city’s insurance policy, Thomas said.
“I stress that just because that claim was paid doesn’t mean it was a founded claim,” Thomas said, explaining sometimes insurance companies decide to settle cases because a lengthy court defense would cost more in the end.
Those decisions are not made by city officials, Thomas said.
Lester’s employment with the city ended in November 2005. City officials said they could not disclose the reason he left.
Middleton’s case was dismissed in November, U.S. District Court records show.
In both cases the documents show the parties agreed the suits were not an admission of liability on the city’s part and released the city from further legal action.
Thomas said claims against the city have been decreasing in recent years.
“All in all, I think we’ve seen a decrease in the number of claims over the years, and by the nature of our business, we’re going to deal with claims,” Thomas said.