Now recovered from the gunshot wounds and on probation for aggravated assault as a result of the July 2014 incident, George Finlinson, 44, claims in a federal lawsuit that the Millard County Sheriff’s Office and Utah Adult Probation and Parole used excessive force and violated his civil rights.
Deputies made a “reckless” and “ill-conceived” plan to put Finlinson in treatment, knowing he has paranoid schizophrenia and believed police were out to kill him, the lawsuit says. Officers also knew he was unarmed and had not committed a crime, the suit claims.
Increasingly concerned about Finlinson’s mental health, his family contacted a counselor who told them “involuntary commitment” would be the best way to get him immediate help. The counselor called the sheriff’s office.
Deputies planned to stop Finlinson in his pickup truck, tell him that he had an outstanding ticket (which he did not), take him into custody, and then drive him to the hospital for treatment, according to the lawsuit.
“However, instead of executing this plan in a calm, non-threatening manner — or making any effort not to alarm George or aggravate his mental illness — the Millard County defendants deployed at least five officers in at least four vehicles to bring George into custody,” the lawsuit says.
Deputies in marked and unmarked vehicles followed Finlinson down a dead-end dirt road, where they tried to box him in. Finlinson maneuvered through the vehicles but hit at least three of them as he went forward and backward, the lawsuit says.
One deputy fired at Finlinson’s truck tires, while another fired at the cab of the truck with an AR-15 rifle. Wounded, Finlinson backed his truck into a concrete irrigation ditch. Officers continued to shoot after the truck became stuck, according to the lawsuit.
In all, one deputy fired seven shots at the truck tires, a second deputy fired 16 shots at Finlinson and his truck, and a third deputy with an AR-15 fired 17 shots at Finlinson, the lawsuit says.
Finlinson suffered four gunshot wounds to the upper back, one near the hip and a glancing shot to the neck.
Deputies found him lying across the front seat of the truck and bleeding profusely.
“Distressed and convinced that the officer defendants’ goal was to kill him, George stated, ‘I know what you are here for. Just finish me,'” according to the lawsuit.
While a deputy went to get a first aid kit, Finlinson rolled up the window and refused medical care. Deputies broke the driver’s side window and tried to forcibly remove him. During the struggle, Finlinson punched a deputy in the side of the head. Another deputy used a Taser on him three times, the lawsuit says.
According to a statement from the sheriff’s office made a day after the incident, the office was asked to “assist in mental health treatment that was needed immediately.”
Deputies spotted Finlinson driving and tried to pull him over in his pickup but he refused to stop, according to the sheriff’s office. During the attempt, Finlinson rammed a police vehicle, disabling it. In all, the sheriff’s office said, four vehicles were damaged and Finlinson tried hitting a deputy standing outside his patrol car.
“Fearing for their safety, officers on the scene fired shots at Finlinson. Finlinson was struck and continued to physically resist, injuring one deputy before he was taken into custody,” the sheriff’s office said.
As Finlinson left the hospital a week later, Utah County sheriff’s deputies arrested him. According to the lawsuit, they put him in solitary confinement for three months — naked and without his glasses and medication. The lawsuit also names the Utah County Sheriff’s Office as a defendant.
Prosecutors charged Finlinson with two counts of attempted aggravated murder, nine counts of aggravated assault, assault by a prisoner, failure to stop at the command of an officer, interference with an arresting officer and driving on a revoked license.
Finlinson pleaded guilty to five counts of aggravated assault and prosecutors dropped the other charges. A judge sentenced him to five years probation in June 2015.
Earlier in 2014, Finlinson was charged in Fillmore’s 4th District Court with assault by a prisoner and interfering with an arresting officer after allegedly kicking a sheriff’s deputy during a traffic stop, court records indicate. The case was later dismissed.
The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount in damages.