Lawsuit filed against Ellis alleges excessive force during arrest

Published 9:23 am Friday, October 29, 2010

By Amanda Lillie, staff writer

AUSTIN — A lawsuit filed in U. S. District Court Wednesday alleges that Mower County sheriff’s Sgt. Jeff Ellis and his K-9 police dog, Tazer, used unnecessary and excessive force while arresting a felony suspect in July 2007.

Attorneys for Peter Vought, 47, of Owatonna, claim that Ellis violated Vought’s civil rights when Tazer bit Vought’s upper thigh and buttocks, causing several puncture wounds, during the arrest.

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The lawsuit comes less than a week before election day. Ellis is a candidate for sheriff.

Vought “suffered serious, permanent injuries and, since July 4, 2007, has suffered and continues to suffer special damages including medical costs, as a direct and proximate result of the illegal seizure and excessive force used against him by Ellis in violation of his constitutional rights,” the federal complaint said.

A July 2007 Mower County District Court document in which Vought was charged with burglary and other felonies made no mention of injuries related to the arrest.

The criminal complaint said Vought had broken into a woman’s apartment and, when the woman and a man entered, began slashing at the man’s legs and feet with a kitchen knife while yelling that he was going to stab and kill them.

After the altercation, the complaint said, the man escorted Vought out of the apartment and down the street, at which point officers saw them. Vought fled between two garages and Austin police contacted Ellis so he and Tazer could track Vought.

The criminal complaint said Ellis yelled three loud commands identifying himself and his intentions before he started the track but there was no response from Vought. Ellis and Tazer apprehended Vought shortly after.

Vought was later found guilty of fifth-degree assault and making terroristic threats in the incident.

The lawsuit against Ellis said Vought was unarmed and lying face down on the ground when Ellis ordered Tazer to attack him. The lawsuit also said Vought was not resisting arrest nor attempting to flee from the deputy.

The lawsuit said, “Ellis, acting under the color of state law, violated and deprived Vought of his clearly established and well-settled rights to be free from the use of excessive and unreasonable force and unreasonable seizure.”

Vought is seeking to be awarded compensatory damages for mental anguish, pain and suffering and humiliation. According to the lawsuit, the amount of compensatory damages exceeds $75,000, excluding interest and costs.

Ellis was found not guilty in a previous excessive force trial in 2009.

A representative for Duane A. Kennedy Attorney at Law confirmed Thursday morning that Kennedy’s office did file a lawsuit on behalf of Vought against Ellis in U.S. District Court Wednesday.

Mower County Chief Deputy Mark May said Thursday morning he was unable to comment on the matter, as he had not seen any details regarding the lawsuit.

Ellis was also contacted for comment but wasn’t immediately available.