A 17-year-old boy will receive about $100,000 as a result of being bitten two years ago by a police dog as he fled the Hudson, Wis., home of a man firing a gun.
In a lawsuit filed last year against St. Croix County, the city of Hudson and others, attorneys for Nate Livermore and his mother argued that excessive force was used when a deputy released a K-9 dog that bit Livermore on the arm, causing him permanent damage.
At the time of the bite, Livermore and three other teens were fleeing the home of Dan Christenson, who, while intoxicated, began shooting a gun inside the house as the teens hid in the basement and police surrounded the home.
Last week, a U.S District Court judge approved a $210,000 settlement between Livermore and the defendants. About $87,000 will go to Livermore's attorneys, and about $22,000 will go toward medical expenses.
The bulk of the settlement will be paid by the city of Hudson's insurer, with the remainder coming from St. Croix County's insurer, said Gus Nicklow, an attorney for Livermore.
In an email Thursday, St. Croix County Sheriff John Shilts said he stands behind the actions of Deputy Joshua Stenseth, whose K-9 partner, Ace, bit Livermore.
"Sometimes it is just cheaper to settle than to defend yourself. Which is the case here," he wrote.
There were no findings indicating that deputies did anything wrong, Shilts said.
Nicklow, however, said Stenseth used "force that was not reasonable or necessary at all."
Stenseth and two other deputies testified that Livermore was running at the time the dog bit him, but Livermore and another teen testified that Livermore had one or both knees on the ground, Nicklow said. Nicklow also said Stenseth did not immediately pull the dog from Livermore.
"We alleged excessive force given that there absolutely was no reason or basis to use force against an innocent teenager," said Nicklow. "We also alleged that there was negligent training by the St. Croix County sheriff's department...in how to deal with these types of situations."
Scott Knudson, chief deputy with the St. Croix County sheriff's office, said Stenseth had to make a split-second decision when he saw people running from the home.
"It's unfortunate finding out information after (the incident) that would have been great to know before, but we didn't have that luxury at the time," Knudson said.
The blame, he added, should rest on the man who initiated the police response.
"Mr. Christenson put all of us in this situation - the kids, us," Knudson said. "He's the one who created this mess."
Livermore and the three other teens, including Christenson's son, were at the Christenson home the evening of Oct. 17 when Christenson arrived intoxicated and began firing a handgun.
The teens hid in a basement closet and made a frantic 911 call asking police for help before breaking a window and escaping.
Christenson continued the standoff with police for several hours and eventually was shot by officers.
In April, he was sentenced to 5-1/2 years in prison after he pleaded no contest to two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety and one count of operating a firearm while intoxicated.
Nicklow said he and his clients plan to file a suit against Christenson in Wisconsin circuit court.
According to expert testimony from Dr. James Fletcher, chief of hand surgery at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, the dog bite caused Livermore "permanent and irreversible damage."
Livermore suffered scarring and loss of muscle on his right forearm and will have "potential long-term weakness as a result," Fletcher wrote in a document submitted to the court.
Fletcher said, however, that Livermore's prognosis is "quite good," given his age and motivation in therapy.
The dog that bit Livermore died in February of sepsis as the result of a cat bite, Knudson said.
Stenseth, one of three K-9 handlers in the department, is now working with another police dog.
Andy Rathbun can be reached at 651-228-2121.
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