The City of Tonawanda on Tuesday agreed to pay a sheriff's deputy $1.8 million in a decade-old case, settling out of court for $700,000 less than a jury had awarded this spring.
A jury in April awarded Erie County Sheriff's Deputy David Carlson and his ex-wife, Cathy Carlson, $2.5 million in the case involving an arrest that turned violent.
For the last five months, as city attorneys moved ahead with both an appeal and out-of-court negotiations, Mayor Alice A. Roth and other officials have tried to prepare the financially strapped city for the impact of a judgment so large. And as the days wore on, interest on the judgment accrued at $600 a day.
"We did consider all the factors, and the most compelling factor was that we were able to save the City of Tonawanda and its taxpayers $700,000," said City Attorney Ronald C. Trabucco. "We were guaranteed a savings of $700,000 without the risk of appeal."
"We made a decision we felt was in the best interest of the city," said Common Council President Carleton R. Zeisz. "I can assure you this was not a decision that was taken lightly."
Carlson's attorney, Michael P. Caffery, said he was pleased with the outcome of the case.
"The main thing is Dave is happy with the verdict," Caffery said. "He's happy to have it over. The emotional part was very difficult, having his partner killed."
Carlson was shot in the upper abdomen Oct. 20, 1989, when he and his partner, Deputy David Dillemuth visited the Clarence home of Rudolph Manzella Jr. to arrest him on a warrant for missing a City of Tonawanda court hearing on a misdemeanor cocaine charge. Manzella shot both deputies, wounding Carlson and killing Dillemuth.
The city was found negligent in the case because the Police Department failed to warn the Sheriff's Department that Manzella might be armed and dangerous.
Manzella is serving a life sentence in a state prison. Dillemuth's son, William Jr., agreed to settle with the city late last year for an undisclosed amount. The city's insurance carrier covered that settlement, city officials said.
Carlson has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. After about a year off recovering from the shooting, he returned to work at the Sheriff's Department, where he now has a desk job overseeing the department's fleet of vehicles.
The Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the settlement with the Carlsons.
"Really, this was a very good decision by the Council and very good advice from our attorneys," Roth said.
The city will pay the Carlsons $900,000 out of its 1999 budget. The remaining $900,000 will be bonded over five years, for a total of $1.05 million, including interest, said Joseph Hogenkamp, city treasurer.
"Obviously, this is devastating to a city with so many capital needs," Roth said.
The settlement will not affect the tax rate for 2000. The Council already approved a budget for next year that included $270,000 for judgments and settlements, with an eye toward settling the Carlson case.