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Dave Roepke, Published January 08 2010

Lawsuit claims Fargo police officer’s kick broke homeless man's knee

A homeless man’s knee and leg were shattered by an unprovoked kick from a Fargo police officer, the alleged victim claims in a federal lawsuit filed against the officer and the city.

According to a complaint filed by Lyle Henderson in U.S. District Court, he was sleeping under a blanket outside an apartment building at 903 43rd St. S. on the night of Sept. 3, 2006, when Officer David Cochran responded to the area on a report of a suspicious person.

Henderson alleges Cochran removed the blanket and asked him to stand up and identify himself. Admittedly so intoxicated he had difficulty standing, Henderson says he repeatedly told Cochran his name and his Social Security number.

As Cochran waited for the results of a background check, Henderson said the officer approached him and did a leg sweep – kicking his legs out from under him – without warning or provocation. It knocked them both to the ground, the complaint states.

After being taken to a Fargo hospital, doctors found that Henderson’s left knee and shin had suffered shattering fractures and required surgery.

Craig Johnson, a Fargo lawyer representing Henderson, said his client was not expecting to be kicked and that it was an unfortunate incident that left Henderson with nagging problems with his knee.

Johnson said he hasn’t spoken with Cochran about the allegations, though he imagines Cochran’s account will differ from Henderson’s.

“There are always two sides to every story,” Johnson said.

The lawsuit was filed last fall, but the co-defendants – Cochran and the city of Fargo – weren’t notified until they were served this week. Johnson said he needed the delay to obtain additional information from his client.

City Attorney Erik Johnson had no comment on the lawsuit. A written answer to the allegations is required within 20 days.

A phone number couldn’t be found for Cochran, a 32-year-old who joined the department in 2004.

Police couldn’t immediately supply Cochran’s disciplinary record. The department’s Web site lists Cochran as the winner of its Employee of the Month award in May 2008.

The lawsuit asks for more than $50,000 in economic, noneconomic and punitive damages.

Craig Johnson wouldn’t say the precise amount Henderson will seek, only that they are aiming for a “fair and reasonable” resolution.

Henderson, 45, has a long history of convictions related to alcohol, including eight in Cass and Clay counties for drunken driving dating back to 1985, according to online court records.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535