A Bethel man says police made him stand outside barefoot during an arrest last winter. Now he's suing the city
A Bethel man is suing the City of Bethel and one of its police officers. The man claims he was unlawfully arrested and forced to stand outside barefoot in subzero temperatures. The Bethel Police Department denies wrongdoing.
The lawsuit concerns an arrest that happened about a year ago.
January 31, 2021 was cold. At around 8:57 a.m., Bethel Police responded to an incident in the Bethel Heights neighborhood. They had received several unintelligible calls from an address on Atsaq Street. The calls came from the girlfriend of a Bethel man named Brayton Lieb. That’s according to a complaint filed by Lieb’s attorneys, Joshua Fannon and Myron Angstman.
The attorneys say officers responded to the calls. They say that when the officers arrived at the home, they saw Lieb inside. According to the complaint, officers began operating under incorrect information: that Lieb wasn’t allowed to be in the home. At around the same time, Lieb’s girlfriend called the police dispatcher back. She asked that charges against Lieb be dropped.
“I would like to drop charges,” said Lieb’s girlfriend.
“Ok, for who?” asked the dispatcher.
“Brayton Lieb,” said Lieb’s girlfriend.
“Ok we have officers outside. You can go talk to them and that would help them out a lot. And you could also bring up wanting to drop charges to them,” said the dispatcher.
At that point, police had not yet charged Lieb with anything. But Angstman, Lieb’s lawyer, says that the girlfriend’s request should have been conveyed by the dispatcher to the officers at the house. He says that it wasn’t. The legal complaint says that the officers began arresting Lieb and told him he wasn’t allowed to be at the house. They said he was violating his conditions of release from an assault conviction a year prior. But Lieb’s attorneys say there was no violation. Lieb had, in the prior incident, pled guilty to assaulting the same girlfriend at that same house. But his conditions of release did not bar him from contacting her or being at the house.
According to Lieb’s legal complaint, the officers pulled him from the house with no shoes on. Lieb then asked to go inside to get his release documents to prove he was allowed at that house. Lieb’s attorney alleges officers did not allow Lieb to go inside, and instead made him stand outside in sub-zero temperatures with bare feet.
“They took him outside to the police car, which was… the doors were frozen. So they would not open. And they stood him there for 15 perhaps 20 minutes in the below zero temperatures, and he froze his feet,” said Angstman.
Scott Kvittem is the officer accused of wrongdoing. According to his police report, he did tell Lieb he was violating his conditions of release by being at the house. But then the reports between Lieb and the officer begin to differ. Officer Kvittem says that Lieb wanted to go into the house to retrieve his documents alone, which the police did not permit him to do. Officer Kvittem wrote that Lieb insisted the police remain outside. Kvittem says that he went into the house to get a pair of shoes for Lieb, and that Lieb refused to put them on.
Kvittem documented two other points where Lieb violated his conditions of release. Kvittem wrote that while he was inside the home, Lieb’s girlfriend handed him a bottle of vodka and told him that she and Lieb had been drinking. That’s one violation. The other is that officers say Lieb refused to take a breathalyzer test.
But Angstman says it was illegal for Kvittem to have entered the house in the first place, because he did not have a warrant. Angstman also says there were no signs that Lieb was drinking.
Kvittem writes that he took Lieb to the Yukon Kuskokwim Correctional Center, but Angstman says that the jail refused to accept Lieb because his feet were too badly frostbitten, and that Lieb was taken to the hospital instead.
KYUK reached out to the City of Bethel for comment. Police Chief Richard Simmons wrote in an email that “the city will be vigorously disputing and defending itself against all allegations.” Simmons also said that Kvittem still works for the Bethel Police Department. Lieb’s attorneys are seeking damages for Lieb, but they say the dollar amount is up to the jury. They said Lieb’s feet are suffering long term consequences from frostbite.
Angstman says that the case is still early in its legal process. He filed the complaint on Jan. 31, 2022, one year after the arrest. No court dates have been set for the case.