$225K settles lawsuit

Posted: Sunday, June 18, 2000

More than four years after Kenai Police Officer Mitchell E. Langseth was accused of sexually assaulting Kristie A. Gerow, an out-of-court settlement finally brought closure to the case last week.

Gerow alleged that on the night of April 28, 1996, Langseth, who was in uniform and driving a police car, directed her to follow him in her car. The officer reportedly led Gerow to Floatplane Road, where he assaulted her.

Alaska State Troopers investigated the allegations and the Anchorage District Attorney's office reported there was insufficient evidence of a sexual assault to pursue charges against Langseth.

District Attorney Adrienne Bachman issued a press release after the investigation stating that Langseth admitted sexual relations had taken place, but evidence did not support Gerow's allegation that the sexual encounter was "without consent" or "coerced" as required by the law to support an assault charge.

As a result of the allegations, Langseth was suspended with pay from his position with the Kenai Police Department. His employment was subsequently terminated; however he was reinstated following a public hearing before the Kenai City Council. He remains employed as a police officer.

In April 1997, Gerow filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Anchorage. The defendants included Langseth, law enforcement officers with the Kenai Police Department and the Alaska State Troopers, the city of Kenai and certain city officials, the state of Alaska, the district attorney involved in the case, 10 unnamed city of Kenai employees and 10 unnamed state of Alaska employees.

The lawsuit asked for compensatory damages against all defendants in excess of $500,000, punitive damages against all defendants in excess of $50,000; payment of costs, attorney fees and prejudgment interest of all liquidated amounts.

Cary Graves, Kenai city attorney, said the decision to settle out of court was made by the city's insurance company.

"It was a business decision," Graves said. "(The insurance company) said they could settle for the same amount it would cost to go to trial."

The settlement awards Gerow a payment of $225,000 and stipulates that no further claims will be brought in the case and that individuals involved in the lawsuit will be responsible for their own court costs.

Spelled out in the agreement is that payment is not to be construed as an admission of liability and that the "sole motivation" for this settlement is to "avoid the impending costs of defense against (the defendants') claims."

Graves said the decision to settle was met with mixed emotions.

"Everyone involved is glad it's over. But on the other hand, I think there was some desire to go to trial and to get a verdict in our favor," Graves said. "We felt we had a very strong case."

Phillip Paul Weidner, attorney for Gerow, said payment already has been made to his client.

"(Gerow) is glad that a resolution was reached that afforded her some measure of justice, and she and her husband and children are looking forward to going on with their life and devoting themselves to a happy family," Weidner said. "I always consider it a privilege and a pleasure to be of help to those persons that need my assistance."

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