Woman suing WSP, troopers over her arrest in fatal Airway Heights crash
SPOKANE, Wash — A woman is suing the state of Washington, the Washington State Patrol and several state troopers over their response to a fatal crash in Airway Heights in 2017.
Melissa Paul was originally charged with vehicular homicide for the crash that killed Ty Olds on New Year’s Day 2017. A judge dismissed the case, saying troopers made false statements to obtain the search warrants in the case.
Paul is now suing in federal court, saying her civil rights were violated.
The case was originally filed in superior court. In the complaint, attorneys says Paul was driving in snowy conditions in Airway Heights that morning. At the same time, Olds was either riding or walking his bicycle along the same stretch of Highway 2. The complaint says Olds was wearing dark clothes and could not be seen; the complaint says “[Paul] did not see Mr. Olds and struck him. Unfortunately, Mr. Olds died.”
The complaint points out that Olds had an “extremely high level” of methamphetamine in his blood – a level the complaint says “is associated with adverse effects and irrational behaviors and/or actions.”
A trooper at the scene thought he smelled alcohol, but didn’t know where it was coming from. Paul’s passenger said he had been drinking and that Paul was the designated driver.
Paul agreed to several field sobriety tests, which the complaint said yielded “no obvious signs of impairment.”
The complaint says dash cam video shows the troopers discussing Paul’s impairment and agreeing a portable breath test was not necessary.
A WSP sergeant arrived at the scene more than an hour later and, again, Paul passed field sobriety tests.
The complaint says troopers can again be heard discussing Paul’s possible impairment, saying “I don’t know how I’m going to get a warrant… I don’t know how we will get probable cause.”
Troopers then asked her to undergo a probable breath test, which she recorded .067.
The complaint says Paul was never told that the breath test was voluntary. State law says she would need to be told there was an alternative blood test that could be requested, but that required troopers to obtain a warrant. It also alleges there was no probable cause for the test, as Paul had twice passed the field sobriety tests and that troopers could be heard on video saying they didn’t know how they could get the warrant.
After the breath test, troopers asked for and obtained a warrant for the blood test.
According to the complaint, the warrant states Paul struggled with the field sobriety tests, even though the video and trooper statements on the dash cam dispute that.
The complaint accuses the troopers of engaging in a conspiracy by “knowingly and recklessly swearing to a factually false and/or misleading affidavit of probable cause to obtain a blood warrant.”
Paul was charged with vehicular homicide and booked into the Spokane County Jail, where the complaint says she was “strip searched” and held on a $150,000 bond, which she could not afford to post. She ended up spending three months in jail before her charges were dismissed.
The complaint alleges WSP violated Paul’s Fourth Amendment rights, which protect against illegal search and seizure.
The original complaint did not specify a dollar amount, but says Paul should be reimbursed for pain and suffering, expenses related to her arrest, lost and future wages and other possible damages.
The case was moved to federal court in mid-April.
WSP and the troopers, represented by the Washington Attorney General’s Office, have now filed a counterclaim, denying the allegations and asking that the case be heard by a jury.
No date for that trial has been set.
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