City settles police assault lawsuit

Thursday, November 8, 2007 | 9:23 p.m. CST; updated 5:14 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — The city settled a lawsuit Thursday brought by a Columbia couple who claimed they were assaulted by police on their front doorstep more than two years ago.

Christopher and Paula Lee filed suit against the Columbia Police Department after the Oct. 27, 2005, incident at their home. The Lees claimed that police forced their way into the Lee’s William Street home, put Christopher Lee into a headlock, beat and sprayed him with Mace, and struck Paula Lee in the back of the head with a flashlight, according to court documents.

Christopher Lee was arrested on suspicion of resisting arrest. Charges against him were later dropped.

Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm, who was named as a defendant in the case, said Thursday he was unable discuss specifics about the case but said that an internal police investigation concluded both officers acted in accordance with department policy. Boehm confirmed there was a cash settlement but did not disclose the amount.

“Our description of the incident varies greatly from the plaintiffs,” Boehm said.

Stephen Wyse, the Lee’s attorney, said officers responded to a call from the Lee’s neighbors regarding shouting at their home. The couple had been in a marital argument, but the Lee’s told officers the argument was not violent.

The officers then tried to search inside to search the home, Wyse said. They grabbed Christopher Lee and inadvertently struck Paula Lee when the couple refused to allow the police inside without a warrant, he said.

The officers — Nathan Baer and Scott Decker — were not disciplined by the department. Baer has been with the department since 2002; Decker has been a Columbia police officer since 2003.

Wyse said the couple was “satisfied with the result” of the lawsuit.

The Lee’s did not return a message left at their home.

Boehm said he had input on the way the case was handled, but that the final decision to settle was made by City Manager Bill Watkins. Watkins could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Christopher Lee is a doctoral student at MU, according to the university’s Division of Biological Sciences Web site.

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