SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a man shot by police during a 2014 chase in Millard County.
George Finlinson is suing over the shooting and his treatment inside the Utah County Jail after his arrest. In a ruling recently handed down, U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell allowed the lawsuit to proceed against police and probation officers and the Millard and Utah County sheriff’s offices (but dropped some specific officers from the litigation).
“A genuinely disputed material fact exists as to whether Utah County is liable… for subjecting Mr. Finlinson to punishment based on a policy of punishing detainees for unadjudicated charges of violence against police officers,” she wrote.
The incident began in Oak City in 2014 when police were enlisted to help Finlinson’s family civilly commit him for treatment of paranoid schizophrenia.
“But what began as a seemingly simple task for county law enforcement—to take Mr. Finlinson into custody — quickly devolved into a thirty-minute slow-speed chase involving multiple officers and looking at times like a game of chicken, with Mr. Finlinson ramming his truck into some of the police cars,” Judge Campbell wrote. “The chase ended in the shooting and tasing of Mr. Finlinson, who was later treated at a hospital and arrested upon release.”
The Millard County Sheriff’s Office said at the time that one officer was injured and they feared for their safety and shot at Finlinson. The judge’s ruling said the officers shot at Finlinson 40 times, hitting him five times in the torso and once in the neck. After being extracted, the judge wrote, Finlinson swung at officers and was Tasered.
After being released from the hospital, the judge said in her ruling, Finlinson was booked into the Utah County Jail on attempted aggravated murder of a police officer and other charges. He spent six weeks in segregation and on suicide watch.
The lawsuit accuses police of excessive force and violation of his constitutional rights while in jail. Finlinson alleges police at the jail segregated him and placing him on suicide watch as a “punishment” for his role in the police chase. Finlinson also contends Millard County Sheriff’s deputies did not have adequate training on dealing with mentally ill people.
In her ruling, the judge said Finlinson had presented enough claims for a jury to consider, overriding the counties’ arguments for governmental immunity.
“From beginning to end, the officers treated Mr. Finlinson as a dangerous criminal
suspect, and never as a man in the throes of a mental health crisis. A reasonable jury could conclude that the officers’ actions before shooting and tasing Mr. Finlinson — both their plan and the resulting chase—were reckless and caused the ultimate use of force,” she wrote.
Court records show in 2015, Finlinson struck a plea deal with Millard County prosecutors. He pleaded guilty to felony charges of aggravated assault in exchange for an attempted murder and other charges being dismissed. The judge in that case sentenced him to probation.