Federal judge approves settlement over excessive force lawsuit

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A federal judge approved a $2 Million dollar settlement after a man died in the custody of Dunbar Police. Judge Irene Berger on Tuesday approved the settlement to wrongful death litigation by the family of Michael Scott Jr. brought against the city of Dunbar and Officers Zachary Winters and Adam Mason.

Scott, 34, died July 24, 2022 after he was arrested for a misdemeanor trespassing warrant by the two officers. According to the suit, once in handcuffs, Officer Winters slammed Scott’s head into the pavement in what he later described to others as a “suplex”, which is a move used in professional wrestling.

The suit alleges after the “suplex” incident, the two officers transported Scott to the South Central Regional Jal where staff refused to incarcerate him due to his serious injuries and instead called paramedics. Scott was taken to the Charleston Area Medical Center and treated for a fractured skull, brain bleed, and pressure in his head. His condition continued to deteriorate until he died that evening. The medical examiner listed his cause of death as “blunt force trauma to the head.”

Following approval of the settlement, Scott’s father Michael Scott Sr. released the following statement:

“This is a nightmare that no parent should ever have to suffer through. It was such a devastating blow to our family and has rocked our sense of safety in our community. We love and miss him. No amount of money can ever bring him back, but we hope that this helps show the seriousness of the case and that we have stood up for our son who did not deserve to have this happen. We are thankful for all of the support and well wishes the family has received and hope that any message that can be taken from this tragedy will help to protect someone else’s son in the future. We hope that he can rest in peace and know that we love him and have fought for him and his memory.”

The family was represented by Charleston attorneys Jesse Forbes and Dante DiTrapano. Forbes noted the unwarranted wrestling move was bad, but claimed the denial of medical care after the incident was a more egregious offense.

“The allegations in the Complaint detail that for the next two hours they used the weight of their authority as police officers to deprive Michael of the medical care he so desperately needed and ultimately his life. As alleged in the pleadings in this case, it’s an absolute tragedy that no family should have to endure.” said Forbes.

Forbes noted in a statement after the settlement the case was holding law enforcement accountable to their duty to the public.

“We as a society need our police officers to be respected and trusted. We depend on them and most are some of the bravest and staunchly dedicated people in our country. However, any time there are allegations such as these it has a devastating effect on that trust. When police officers are alleged to have stepped over the line and used their authority to perpetrate injustices they must be held accountable, not only to provide accountability to the victims, but also to send a message to any other potential bad actors that such conduct won’t be tolerated in our communities and thereby help provide faith in our police officers. Michael Scott Jr.’s family has fought for that very type of accountability.” said Forbes.

Co-counsel Dante DiTrapano issued the following statement as well.

“While no amount of money can bring back a son, a brother, or a loved one, hopefully this can help to provide not only closure to this family but a sense of justice and accountability they certainly deserve. The types of abuses alleged in this case have no place in our society, much less at the hands of law enforcement. This family has bravely stepped up and, in light of what they believe tragically happened to their son, have said that this type of injustice won’t be accepted. Not on their watch. Helping to shine a light on the type of conduct alleged through this case, we hope that someone else’s son, daughter, parent or loved one will be saved from future harm.”

As for Winters and Mason, they are still active on the Dunbar Police Department force. Both DiTrapano and Forbes believed there is ample evidence for a criminal prosecution of both for violation of Scott’s civil rights, but said that decision  in the hands of the U.S. Attorney.

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