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Official: Police shooting leads to largest payout in Lynchburg history

Official: Police shooting leads to largest payout in Lynchburg history

Only $3 for 13 weeks
Walker Sigler

Walker Sigler (center), his wife, Kate Sigler, and their attorney John Lichtenstein (right) leave Lynchburg Circuit Court on March 25, 2019 after two Lynchburg police officers pleaded no contest to shooting Walker Sigler in his Link Road home in 2018.

A settlement struck to end a federal lawsuit against two former Lynchburg police officers resulted in the largest payout in the city’s history, a city official said.

The complete scope of the deal reached with Walker Sigler, a Hill City man shot by police at his home in 2018, is still secret.

But records obtained by The News & Advance show city taxpayers were on the hook for the first $500,000 of the record-setting payout.

In an interview, City Attorney Walter Erwin acknowledged Lynchburg paid out the entirety of its half- million dollar deductible for the first time in the city’s history.

The city’s insurance pool picked up the rest of the tab, which has led at least one open-government advocate to suggest the settlement could lead to higher insurance costs down the road.

Sigler launched his suit against the two officers — Edward Ferron and Savannah Simmons — last June, seeking $12 million in damages. A confidential settlement was reached in December.

“Following extensive negotiations, the issues addressed by this lawsuit have been resolved by the parties in a manner which reflects the seriousness of these events and the gravity of Mr. Sigler’s and his family’s injuries and losses,” John Lichtenstein, Sigler’s attorney, wrote in a statement announcing the settlement.

The News & Advance filed a Virginia Freedom of Information Act request with Lynchburg for any city documents that show the amount of money awarded in the case.

In response, the city provided copies of financial records documenting the $500,000 deductible payment but said it has no records directly tied to the complete settlement.

Erwin said only the city’s insurance pool — a private entity not subject to open record laws — and Sigler know the full terms of the deal.

“We do not have a copy of the settlement agreement,” Erwin said. “It was the insurance company’s call as to whether or not to settle the case.”

Lynchburg City Manager Bonnie Svrcek said she was never told how much money was paid out as part of the deal.

“I do not know anything other than the case was settled and it’s behind us,” Svrcek said. “I do not know that number, nor do I want to.”

Megan Rhyne, the executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said confidential suits obscure how taxpayer dollars are spent, impeding government accountability.

“There’s an overwhelming public interest in knowing about police excessive force cases,” Rhyne said. “I think it’s important to know the terms of the settlement because it shows the performance of the government.”

Rhyne also said the payout could have direct consequences for city coffers, namely in the form of higher insurance costs.

“We should know how much was settled for, not just how much the city paid out in their deductible and that’s because how much the insurance company pays out ultimately does impact the city,” she said. “Premiums can change based on what they pay out and that does impact the city’s bottom line.”

Erwin, however, noted the Sigler payout was a rare event, suggesting the settlement will have little to no impact on future insurance costs.

“This was an anomalous situation,” Erwin said. “It certainly doesn’t take away from the seriousness of the incident but this isn’t something that happens every day. The city has a good record with its insurance company.”

The Sigler settlement is the second time in the last decade the city has agreed to pay a claim related to alleged police misconduct. In 2011, the city paid $250,000 to the family of Clarence Beard Jr., a Lynchburg man who died in police custody in 2006.

Sigler was shot by Ferron and Simmons in the early morning hours of Feb. 17, 2018, at his home on Link Road.

Ferron and Simmons, along with three other officers, attempted to enter the home to investigate an open front door deemed suspicious on the night of the shooting. Attorneys for Ferron and Simmons later claimed the open door indicated a crime could have been committed inside the home.

Sigler, who had been awakened by the police presence, was shot in the leg when the two officers mistook him for an attacker.

Sigler was badly injured in the shooting. In addition to a shattered right femur, he suffered permanent vision loss in his left eye as a result of blood loss. He has since undergone several surgeries, according to his attorney.

Ferron and Simmons were later indicted in connection with the shooting but avoided jail time after each pleaded no contest to misdemeanor reckless handling of a firearm — a reduced charge reached in an agreement with prosecutors. The two officers have since resigned from the force.

Richard Chumney covers Liberty University for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5547.

Richard Chumney covers Liberty University for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5547.

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