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Gettysburg to pay $225k settlement in arrest lawsuit, avoiding police reforms

Written by Lillian Reed, The Evening Sun | Jun 19, 2017 9:48 AM
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Photo by Ben Allen/WITF

Derek Twyman, who was Tased by a Gettysburg police officer in a 2015 traffic stop. Twyman is now suing the borough and officer for using excessive force and providing poor training and supervision.

(Gettysburg) -- Gettysburg Borough has agreed to pay $225,000 to settle a federal lawsuit brought by a local man who alleged his civil rights were violated during his arrest in May 2015, according to a news release Friday.

Derek J. Twyman's arrest was captured on former Gettysburg Officer Christopher Folster's body camera. Folster is seen using a Taser to subdue Twyman, who police said refused orders to get out of his car after he was pulled over for allegedly violating a protection from abuse order.

Twyman was acquitted of resisting arrest and credited the verdict to Folster's police report conflicting with the footage, which was shown at trial.

Twyman's suit, filed in federal court, names Folster, Gettysburg Borough, Folster's supervisors - former Sgt. Larry Runk and Gettysburg Chief Joseph Dougherty - and former Mayor William Troxell, who oversaw the police department at the time of the arrest. The suit also names Gettysburg College and college officers Travis Smith and Brian Herrell, who responded to the scene that night.

Twyman initially offered to accept $200,000 to resolve the suit in exchange for the borough's agreement to become an accredited police department within three years, and to deploy mobile and body cameras in the field. The borough opted to pay more money to settle the case in exchange for not being required to agree to those reforms, Twyman's attorney Devon Jacob said in the release.

Twyman and his attorney cannot dictate the policies of the Gettysburg police department, Gettysburg Borough manager Charles Gable said Friday.

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This screenshot shows 28-year-old Derek Twyman in his car during a May police stop in Gettysburg as Gettysburg Borough Police Officer Christopher Folster aims his Taser at him.

In the past year, Gettysburg Borough Council hired several private consultants to conduct independent reviews of the borough's police department. A heavily redacted version of the study was released publicly in September with what appeared to be more than 80 recommendations.

"Council is pursuing some of the recommendations and reforms outlined in the studies, the details of which I'm not at liberty to discuss because they concerns matters of personnel and litigation," Gable said.

"It's disgusting, simply disgusting," Jacob said in the news release, referring to the borough's choice of paying the higher settlement. "Derek is the only person who even considered the best interests of the citizens and taxpayers. Folster has not been criminally prosecuted, and the police chief has not been fired. The citizens of this Borough need to wake up and start holding their elected officials accountable."

The 67-page lawsuit detailed 12 claims outlining federal, Pennsylvania and case laws that were allegedly violated.

The lawsuit was hinged on the argument that the problems with Twyman's arrest were systemic, stemming from an alleged lack of training and lack of action from Folster's supervisors. The suit pointed to 15 citizen complaints concerning Folster since 2007 as evidence for the claims filed against Runk, Dougherty, Troxell and the borough.

Twyman, who has an intellectual disability that affects his ability to process information and communicate effectively, tried to call his father at one point during the exchange with police, according to the lawsuit.

That should have been a red flag to Folster, Jacob said in January, adding that the suit claims the borough and college allegedly failed to properly train officers to recognize the signs. Herrell also stated in his police report that he heard Twyman telling officers that he had a disability.

"I think for Derek, it's a great and fair result," Jacob said of the settlement Friday. "I am disappointed in the borough and its officials in their continued refusal to do the right the thing for their citizens."

Troxell stepped down from his post in 2016 for health reasons. Folster and Runk resigned from their posts over the summer as part of a negotiated no-fault settlement with the borough, which came about after the borough solicited an independent review of Twyman's arrest from legal and law enforcement experts. Dougherty is still employed by the borough.

Jacob is representing another lawsuit against Folster. Gettysburg resident Sudhir Gangwal filed the lawsuit in September 2014, alleging the former borough police officer used unnecessary force and broke his left shoulder during an arrest in 2011, according to court documents.

Gangwal died unexpectedly in August for reasons unrelated to his interaction with Folster. His estate decided to continue the lawsuit, which is expected to head to trial, Jacob said.

This story comes to WITF through a content-sharing partnership with the Hanover Evening Sun.

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