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City settles over cop's crimes

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The Watertown City Council is expected to act on a resolution Monday night that would pay $600,000 to Ryan T. Dorr to settle a state Supreme Court lawsuit he filed against the city.

The suit claimed the city was negligent in training and supervision of former Watertown police officer Michael K. VanWaldick, who was off duty Dec. 8, 2004, when he shot Mr. Dorr three times in the victim's LeRay Street apartment.

A July 2006 report compiled by the state Commission of Investigation called Watertown Police Department's handling of several incidents involving Mr. VanWaldick "grossly inadequate" and "egregious."

In 2005, Brenda A. Dorr, Mr. Dorr's mother, said her son had $250,000 in medical bills, although insurance provided by his employer might have covered a portion of the costs. Supreme Court Judge Hugh A. Gilbert had established Nov. 1 as the trial date.

In September, the City Council met twice in executive session — both times for more than an hour — with attorney Jonathan B. Fellows, Syracuse, who the city retained for the lawsuit.

Mr. Dorr filed suit in August 2005, but the case languished because Mr. VanWaldick was reluctant to answer many of Mr. Dorr's attorney's questions about his activities leading up to the shooting. According to court documents, he did not want to further incriminate himself, even though criminal action against him had been completed.

Mr. VanWaldick shot Mr. Dorr in 2008 after climbing a ladder to reach Mr. Dorr's second-floor LeRay Street apartment. Mr. VanWaldick then kidnapped Jessica S. Quinta, his former girlfriend who is now married to Mr. Dorr, from the residence and took her to a town of Adams residence owned by his father. He also stole a vehicle the day of the shooting.

He is serving a 15-year sentence at Clinton Correctional Facility, Dannemora, after pleading guilty in Jefferson County Court to attempted murder, kidnapping and grand larceny.

Daniel R. Ryan, a Syracuse attorney representing Mr. Dorr, did not return a call Friday seeking comment.

The state Commission of Investigation's 2006 report faulted the Police Department for failing to properly investigate events leading up to the shooting and found the department lacked sufficient policy for domestic incidents involving police officers.

It also identified three incidents, two of which had not been made public, that involved Mr. VanWaldick's abuse of Ms. Quinta.

During these incidents, police conducted inadequate investigations and "failed to perceive the seriousness of the VanWaldick-Quinta domestic situation," the report said.

Officers gave Mr. VanWaldick favorable treatment and failed to properly document their investigation.

In September, the city asked the judge to rule that its Police Department was not responsible for the incident. Mr. Dorr's attorneys countered, saying the department had a "mountain of evidence that Mr. VanWaldick was violent and unstable," yet took no action against him.

The city will pay for the settlement using its Risk Retention Fund. There is about $727,300 in the fund, City Manager Mary M. Corriveau said.

The city is self-insured and does not purchase general liability insurance, meaning it must keep such a fund for settlements and claims brought to the Board of Audit.

The city appropriates about $40,000 into the fund annually, but likely will transfer larger sums in the upcoming years to recoup the settlement payout.

Mrs. Corriveau said she does not believe the city will be left vulnerable by the $600,000 draw-down of the retention fund.

"I think we have adequate reserves based on the claims that are out there," she said. "There are no large claims outstanding right now."

Mr. VanWaldick's first parole hearing is set for June 2017, and he becomes eligible for parole in October 2017. His sentence could last until December 2019.

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