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Regional Interests

Clark County to pay $72,000 to man who feuded with deputy for weeks before tense arrest

A file photo of the entrance to the Clark County Law Enforcement Center in Vancouver, Washington.
A file photo of the entrance to the Clark County Law Enforcement Center in Vancouver, Washington.

Clark County, Washington, has agreed to pay $72,000 to settle a civil rights lawsuit filed by a man who feuded with deputies over several months in 2017, leading to an arrest outside his home with a deputy’s gun drawn.

Steven Klug, a 54-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran, said the escalating run-ins with deputies stemmed from an August 2017 argument with Deputy Jack Phane while Klug checked his SUV’s oil at a gas station. The deputy then pulled Klug over and gave him a traffic ticket.

Klug alleged Phane and two other deputies then “conspired together” to harass and arrest him. Deputies detained him one night in October 2017, court records show. Another deputy then arrested Klug in December on charges of intimidating a public servant when he attempted to pay the traffic ticket. A Clark County judge threw out Klug’s arrest, finding no probable cause.

Klug filed the civil rights lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Western Washington in October 2019. The county agreed to the settlement this week, Klug’s attorney, Angus Lee, said.

The settlement came five months after a U.S. magistrate judge found evidence to support one of Klug’s claims. The magistrate judge described the case as two “overbearing” men whose dispute escalated into near violence.

“The matter … escalated over the course of several weeks, to the point where people’s lives were threatened and guns were drawn,” Judge Richard Creatura wrote on March 3. “It should have never gotten that far. All sides are to blame, but only one small piece should be resolved in this court.”

The magistrate judge did lay blame on Klug for being combative. Creatura wrote that most of his claims should be dismissed, except one: a wrongful detention claim for when Deputy Dan Brown stopped Klug outside his home one night while Phane watched from a block away.

The feud started, according to court records, when Klug pumped his SUV’s gas and checked the oil before dawn Aug. 3, 2017. When Phane approached Klug and his Nissan Xterra, Klug reportedly asked him, “Is it a fucking crime to fuel a fucking vehicle?”

Phane, Klug claimed, then responded by saying “drive safe.” The deputy then parked his patrol vehicle across the street, waited for Klug to leave, then pulled him over, court records said. He cited Klug for obscuring his license plate with a bike rack.

Phane also entered Klug’s name into a local database, Lee said, flagging him as “a safety concern.” The entry referenced that Klug carried knives.

A month later, Brown patrolled Klug’s neighborhood at 2 a.m., records said. When Klug left his house to head to the gym, he was suddenly “surrounded by several patrol cars, all with their emergency lights activated.”

“Defendant Brown states that he was investigating yelling that he purportedly heard somewhere in the neighborhood – although no one else corroborates this explanation and plaintiff states that there was no noise at all that morning,” Creatura wrote.

With flashlights blaring, Brown stopped Klug for “several minutes,” records said. He inspected Klug’s car. Then police drove away. Phane, the records said, watched from a parked vehicle a block away.

If the case went to a jury trial, Creatura wrote, the stop likely would be found to be illegal.

Tensions peaked once more in fall 2017. That October, Klug mailed a payment for the August traffic ticket. He left a note that he felt extorted. He wrote the county had a “final opportunity to return my hard earned money.”

In the envelope, a county staffer also found an orange powder. When the staffer called Klug, he said it was probably spices he spilled while mixing a pre-workout drink. An FBI analysis later found the powder to be turmeric and cinnamon.

A criminal report about the envelope and orange powder landed in Deputy Jared Stevens’ hands in November 2017. Stevens interviewed the staffer about her call with Klug, and she described him as “apologizing one minute and then yelling and swearing the next,” court records show.

Stevens, a month later, officials moved to arrest Klug for intimidating a public servant. While Klug claimed the spill was accidental, the magistrate judge wrote it was reasonable for a deputy to think that the note and powder – albeit harmless – could still be intended as a threat.

Stevens arrested Klug on Dec. 7, 2017, in the evening. Court records show he saw that Klug had been flagged as hostile and carrying knives. Stevens drew his gun, though he claimed he kept it pointed down. Klug claimed Stevens pointed the gun at him.

Ultimately, Creatura found all claims except those against Brown should be dismissed.

A county spokesperson directed questions to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. A sheriff’s office representative did not respond to multiple inquiries.

Klug did not provide a statement. Lee, Klug’s attorney, said his client was relieved to see the dispute finished.

“This case was never about money for him. As a former Marine, it was about standing up for his constitutional rights and making sure the county took the matter seriously,” Lee said.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting