Carlton County has settled a lawsuit with a Moose Lake man who claims his civil rights were violated when he was shot by a sheriff’s deputy who allegedly had been drinking just hours earlier.
Shawn Michael Olthoff, 35, was unarmed when he was shot twice by Sgt. Jason Warnygora on July 29, 2019, at the Hillside Terrace Mobile Home Park in Moose Lake. Members of a county SWAT team were attempting to arrest Olthoff two days after he allegedly pointed a gun at another deputy and fled the scene of a traffic stop.
“The shooting took place under rapidly occurring and dynamic circumstances in which the shooting officer reasonably believed officers were taking fire from an individual who had reportedly pointed a firearm at a law enforcement officer just two days prior,” Joseph Flynn, attorney for Carlton County, said in a statement emailed to the News Tribune.
The lawsuit filed in April asked for $35 million. Carlton County settled the lawsuit for $6.2 million, $4.2 million of which will be paid by the county and the remaining $2 million by the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust.
“The settlement does not assume fault by any of the named parties,” Flynn said.
Flynn said the gunshot wounds caused a spinal cord injury resulting in quadriplegia.
“As a result of Mr. Olthoff’s severe spinal cord injury and significant future medical bills, a portion of the settlement funds will be placed into trust for Mr. Olthoff’s substantial future medical needs,” Flynn said.
According to Flynn, the settlement resolves all civil litigation stemming from the incident.
“The agreement allows the parties to avoid the protracted litigation involved with adjudicating federal civil rights claims, which may have taken years to resolve, and avoids exposing the taxpayers of Carlton County to a potential verdict significantly higher than the settlement along with payment of Mr. Olthoff’s attorneys’ fees,” Flynn said.
Olthoff’s attorney Robert Bennett did not immediately respond to requests for comment by the News Tribune.
Warnygora told investigators he fired after seeing Olthoff's hand move and heard a noise he believed to be a gunshot. Carlton County Attorney Lauri Ketola later ruled the sergeant's actions to be legally justified, saying Warnygora "believed he and his teammates were facing a deadly threat."
Olthoff had recently been released from prison. His record includes numerous assaults, including an incident in which he rammed the vehicle of U.S. Marshals who were attempting to apprehend him.
The lawsuit alleges that Warnygora admitted having two beers before receiving a page to respond as a member of the county's Consolidated Emergency Response Team, which drew up plans for what was considered a high-risk apprehension.
When officers arrived on the scene, the layout of the residence was different from a diagram they had been provided. Team members reported confusion as they breached the door and deployed a flash-bang device.
Olthoff was sleeping on a couch at the time. The lawsuit claims he followed all commands, raising his empty hands and not making any attempt to resist or evade arrest, when Warnygora shot him twice.
Warnygora told Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigators that he fired after hearing something he described as a "ping" and saw Olthoff's left hand moving. The noise apparently was from a door closing suddenly, according to previous findings released by Ketola.
Olthoff was hospitalized until Sept. 17, incurring over $600,000 in medical bills, according to the lawsuit. He remains paralyzed from the chest down. The suit originally sought $25 million for physical injuries and pain and suffering, as well as $10 million in punitive damages against Warnygora personally.