EL RENO — A recently settled lawsuit involving Canadian County Sheriff Randall Edwards and two of his deputies reveals that details of a 2010 officer-involved shooting remain sketchy at best — even two years later.
Edwards, the deputies and the Canadian County Board of Commissioners were sued in April 2011 by Yukon resident Marcus Stephenson. The lawsuit was quickly moved to federal court, where it was settled in late April of this year, The Oklahoman learned.
Stephenson's suit claimed that his civil rights had been violated after an altercation with Canadian County deputy Andrew Todd, near an accident scene at Interstate 40 and Czech Hall Road.
Todd would claim he was struck by Stephenson's vehicle and fired a shot at the passing four-wheel-drive Jeep because he felt — at least at that moment — that Stephenson was trying to “run me down.”
In the lawsuit, Stephenson claimed that he was trying to make a left turn and thought that the deputy had motioned him through the intersection.
The complaints against Edwards, deputy Ken Thompson and the board of commissioners were deemed insufficient by a judge, but one complaint against Todd was upheld.
According to Denny Butler, claims and litigation manager for the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma, Stephenson and his attorneys were paid $19,250 to settle the lawsuit.
Butler said the cash was paid to settle an excessive force complaint against Todd, “for firing his gun at the vehicle.”
When reached by phone, Stephenson, 28, declined to comment on the case due to the terms of the settlement.
Edwards, who called Todd one of his finest subordinates, said no disciplinary action was taken against the deputy. He said he still believes that Todd made the proper decision when he used “deadly force” to halt the Jeep driven by Stephenson.
“He was cleared of any excessive use of force ... he acted within the scope of our policy,” Edwards said. “He responded with deadly force after being assaulted by deadly force.
“These weapons we carry aren't for looks,” he said.
But an examination of court records reveals a case filled with conflicting statements, and the lawsuit itself alleges improprieties by the sheriff and deputies.
According to the lawsuit, Stephenson and Todd met near the interchange in the early morning hours of Oct. 19, 2010.
Todd was directing traffic near the scene of a car accident, court records show, when Stephenson attempted to make a left-hand turn in front of the deputy.
What happened next depends on who you ask.
Todd, who was deposed as part of the lawsuit, said he was commanding Stephenson to continue straight and that the Yukon man ignored his orders. The deputy said Stephenson's Jeep struck him on the left knee as the vehicle made the turn, which caused him to fire his weapon in self-defense.
One of Stephenson's tires was blown out after the shooting and Todd admitted the young man was visibly shaken following the gunplay.
Stephenson, who has no criminal record in Oklahoma, would claim in the lawsuit that he simply misunderstood Todd's hand gestures and that he had no intention of threatening or assaulting the deputy.
According to the lawsuit, Stephenson then was allowed to call his brother-in-law to help change his tire. It also claims that the young man joked around with the deputy before Edwards arrived on the scene.
Stephenson, who is described simply as “Plaintiff” in the lawsuit, claimed the mood changed when Edwards arrived on the scene.
“During this period, the deputies now joined by Defendant Edwards, began to huddle and converse among themselves,” the lawsuit states. “Shortly thereafter, Defendant Edwards approached Plaintiff, stated that Plaintiff brushed up against Defendant Todd ... and advised Plaintiff that he was under arrest for assault and battery with a deadly weapon.”
Edwards denied that he and his deputies huddled up to conspire against Stephenson but said that police work involves briefings at crime scenes.
Witnesses, however, said that Stephenson's Jeep never struck the deputy.
O'Ryan Newton, who was driving to work with his wife the morning of the incident, told attorneys during a deposition that he was two cars behind Stephenson when he saw the deputy shoot out the Jeep's tire.
Newton and his wife both denied that Stephenson's Jeep made contact with the deputy.
“I can say with certainty that that vehicle never struck the deputy as far as I could tell,” Newton said. “Just based on how the deputy was moving and reacting to the vehicle as it went through the intersection, I don't see any point in time where there would have been contact with the deputy.”
Newton's wife, Chrislyn, also denied that Todd was struck by the Jeep, saying the vehicle passed by the deputy with “approximately two to three feet” to spare.
Newton also said that Thompson, one of the investigating deputies, tried to “steer” him to making statements to corroborate Todd's version of events.
“I felt like Ken Thompson was kind of trying to steer me towards thinking or saying the deputy was struck,” Newton said. “He didn't come out directly in any way, but I think that there was insinuation towards that.”
Newton said Thompson “repeatedly” told him the deputy was struck with the Jeep during questioning.
“It was my impression by him repeatedly coming back to that point that he was hoping I would make a change to my story or my account,” Newton said.
Stephenson eventually was arrested and taken to the Canadian County sheriff's office for questioning.
Instead of being sent through the normal intake process, Stephenson was allowed to wait in an office area so he could be booked without having to wait in a cell.
And instead of being booked for assault with a deadly weapon, Stephenson was cited for failing to obey a police officer and inattentive driving.
“We charged him,” Edwards said. “The DA apparently declined or never did pursue charges against him.”
Edwards, who is running for re-election and faces a former Canadian County deputy in November's general election, said he stands behind Todd's story and still believes the deputy was struck by the Jeep.
“At the time it happened, we had no witnesses, in terms of absolutely verifying that he was or was not hit,” Edwards said. “The deputy did have a transfer of dirt from the vehicle onto his trousers and he received trauma to his leg which he was treated by a doctor for.”
Edwards said he is displeased with the outcome of the lawsuit. He said Stephenson and his attorneys were initially seeking “upwards to $1 million.”
“Very minute compared to what they first started at,” the sheriff said. “I think it was originally $800,000.”
Edwards said the settlement, regardless of how “minute” it may have been, was too much. He said the $19,250 was basically to cover the damage to Stephenson's vehicle and the young man's legal fees.
“It was expedient to all the parties concerned to settle it and get it behind us,” Edwards said. “But if it would've been up to me, we wouldn't have settled or paid the suspect a penny.
“I don't believe in rewarding anybody for breaking the law.”