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Lake County Sheriff Don Bell

Lake County Sheriff Don Bell

POLSON — The trial examining a Lake County man’s claims that he suffered major injuries at the hands of law enforcement after a July 2016 arrest by the Lake County Sheriff’s Office wrapped up its second day in Lake County District Court on Wednesday.

Larry Martinez, who testified his hearing has been impaired since birth, sued Lake County Sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Carlson and then-Detention Officer Cody Struble in August 2017, alleging the violation of his constitutional rights, negligence and assault.

On the stand Wednesday, both Larry Martinez and his wife, Lauri, offered expansive testimony about his experience, prompting periodic requests from the judge to stay on topic.

“There wasn't a spot on his body that wasn't bruised,” Lauri Martinez said.

The lawsuit alleges Martinez was never provided an interpreter and unable to understand what was happening following his arrest. Aside from medical records that have stacked up since the incident, the plaintiffs’ evidence includes a video from the detention center lobby, where Martinez is seen in something of a tangle with Struble before ending up facedown on the floor in a “large pool of blood.”

The defense contends Martinez fell at the jail and was uncooperative because he was drunk. Martinez was arrested after driving his car off the road and becoming stuck in the ditch. A blood sample at the hospital showed his blood-alcohol content at 0.288, more than three times the legal limit.

Two sign language interpreters stood side by side as Martinez testified on Wednesday, one signing questions to Martinez from the attorneys and the other vocalizing his responses.

“I was confused, I was frightened,” he said through the interpreter. “I didn’t know what they were going to do to me.”

Martinez and his wife were coming home from a bar and discussing whether to have fish or hamburgers for Lauri’s birthday on July 31, 2016, when their Dodge pickup went off the road and into a ditch.

“All of a sudden, we just veered and hit some gravel and the truck went down a little bit,” Lauri Martinez testified on Wednesday in Lake County District Court. 

Lauri Martinez is also listed as a plaintiff in the case. Lake County Sheriff Don Bell is listed as a defendant, as well as the arresting officer, Sgt. Carlson. Struble no longer works at the Sheriff’s Office, Bell said. 

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Martinez said he couldn’t understand the responding law enforcement officers when they asked him to turn off the car and come into custody. Rather than using his wife to help Martinez communicate, she was escorted to a patrol car. 

Martinez said handcuffs Carlson snapped on his wrists were so tight they caused nerve damage; he’s already had surgery on one hand, but he said Wednesday the fingers on his other hand were numb as he testified.

After his arrest, Martinez was taken to the Lake County Detention Center, where Martinez claims he was slammed to the ground. The portion of video shown during the trial on Wednesday shows Martinez enter the detention center lobby, hands held behind his back by Struble in tow. After a few steps, Martinez’s face and body smack into a wall. Martinez said Wednesday Struble muscled him into the wall, although defense attorney Maureen Lennon said Martinez appeared drunk enough to stumble into the wall in a fit of disorderly behavior.

In the video, Martinez takes a few big steps forward, and Stuble appears to re-arrange his hands on Martinez’s upper body. In the next second, Martinez swings to the right and comes facedown onto the floor, with Struble still on his back. After appearing to secure Martinez, Struble gets up to his knees, but Martinez is unconscious.

“I felt like it was really improper what he did to me because he could have protected me from falling, but instead he picked me up and kind of made me hit the wall,” Martinez said through the interpreter. “I was banging back and forth like a ping-pong machine.”

He was transported to the hospital from the jail, where Martinez’s friend arrived to help him communicate with law enforcement and hospital staff. Then he was released to go home for the night. 

“He had more blood on the back of his shirt than in the front, but his nose was all smashed in, his lip was cut, his legs were scraped up,” Lauri Martinez testified. 

Defense counsel spent a considerable amount of time during their questioning of Lauri Martinez asking about past car and motorcycle crashes that had caused Larry serious injuries.

Larry Martinez was somewhat resistant to Lennon, the defense attorney, accusing her interpreter of miscommunicating his words during his deposition a year and a half ago.

Prior to the incident, Larry Martinez had been working at the golf course and as a custodian at the school district. He and Lauri moved to Polson from the Denver area in 2007. After the incident, he said he had undergone medical treatment for his injuries, but the pain is too great to hold his infant grandchildren.

The plaintffs are expected to rest their case Thursday morning before the defense launches into its own arguments. Judge Elizabeth Best, who has been resolute about keeping the trial on schedule, told parties at the end of Wednesday's proceedings that the jury will go into deliberations by noon on Friday. 

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