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Daniel Zettler wins $43K in free-speech lawsuit against cop, David Lane may file another one

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Last week, Daniel Zettler, a public defender in Salida, won a $43,000 settlement with the city over a 2011 bust in which he says he did nothing more than advise an arrestee to remember his rights. But the case may not be over. Attorney David Lane says he's thinking about filing another lawsuit against the cop in question because of what he sees as defamatory comments published after the fact.

The incident took place in June 2011 at that year's edition of the FIBark Hooligan Race, described on the event's website as "America's oldest and boldest whitewater event."

Here's a video from that year's fest:

While attending the event, Zettler saw a Salida police officer, Shane Garcia, arresting a man on suspicion of assault. According to an article in the Pueblo Chieftain, Zettler reacted by telling the man, "Don't forget your constitutional rights, Fourth and Fifth Amendments."

From that point, the Chieftain's account splits into separate narratives. Zettler says Garcia grabbed him by the life vest he was wearing and "violently" spun him around; then, he attempted to walk away when Garcia didn't answer a question about whether or not he was under arrest, only to be taken into custody on suspicion of obstructing an officer.

In contrast, Garcia, through his attorney, identified by Lane as Eric Ziporin, denied spinning Zettler in a violent fashion (although he acknowledged grabbing the vest) and said he busted him only after he refused to spell his name before putting his hands in the officer's face and saying, "Go ahead and arrest me."

Zettler subsequently secured Lane's services and filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court. Last week's $43,000 settlement, with Zettler receiving $25,650 and Lane's law firm getting the remaining $17,350, officially puts the case to bed -- although Lane says the cost wouldn't have been so hefty had city reps been willing to acknowledge culpability sooner.

Continue to read more about the Daniel Zettler case. "We approached Salida before we ever filed, and they completely blew us off," Lane maintains. "So we said, 'Okay, fine, we'll file a case.' So this is another example of a government entity that could have settled for much less money -- but they wanted to fight, without ever analyzing the end game. We see this time and time again with government: They can settle things cheaply and quickly without going to court, but they keep picking unwinnable battles like this one."

Now, though, Lane sees more actionable statements in the Chieftain article. "It said he put his hands on the cop and was being belligerent, and that's a lie -- that's defamation," he allows. Moreover, he says he can prove it through testimony from witnesses, including a law student who was with Zettler at the time of the incident and says he was "nothing but cooperative. And the proof is that they paid $43,000 to get out of the case -- because we had so many people lined up to say Zettler's version was the correct version."

With that in mind, Lane says, "we're considering a defamation lawsuit against the cop, who's once again telling falsehoods to the media."

We've left a message for attorney Ziporin and will update this post when and if he responds. In the meantime, Lane believes the Zettler case should stand as a reminder to other police officers -- particularly those who "spend more time on the firing range than they do in the law library."

More from our News archive: "Ward Churchill's Colorado Supreme Court loss shows judges protect the powerful, lawyer says."

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