Former San Diego Chargers linebacker Steve Foley walks these days with a pronounced limp, his left leg damaged and atrophied to the point that walking is a chore and his old profession is a memory. As a result, Foley's fight has moved from the field to the courtroom.
Foley is suing the city of Coronado, Calif., and one of its officers for making his playing career a distant memory. Foley's suit charges that he was the victim of an unjust shooting by Coronado police officer Aaron Mansker. The trial, which began in San Diego County Court last week, is expected to last four to six weeks.
On Sept. 3, 2006, Mansker shot the unarmed player while attempting to make an off-duty arrest of Foley for drunk driving. Foley, who was legally drunk at the time and later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor DUI charges, contends that Mansker never should have been in position to shoot him. Foley's attorneys are seeking to prove that Mansker violated the police department's policies and procedures manual.
Beyond the court battle and the millions of dollars Foley is hoping to get in unspecified past and future lost wages, the lawsuit brings up an interesting discussion about what is considered proper conduct by off-duty police officers and excessive use of force by police around the country.
"The cynical part of me makes me think that this is not the case that's going to bring up that discussion," said Dale Franks Jr., who spent 10 years in military police and private security. Franks now writes a blog on the Libertarian website QandO.net and observes police behavior.
Franks lives in the northern part of San Diego County and has kept up with the progress of the Foley case, although he doesn't know any of the people involved. Franks has a harsh assessment of Mansker based on what he's learned of the officer's past.
"I would have fired him before we ever got to the point he shot someone," Franks said. "By that time, they should have known they had a cowboy on their hands."
Fortunately for Mansker and Coronado, the jury will likely never find out how Franks came to that conclusion. Much of Mansker's employment and personal history have been excluded from the trial after the judge ruled that it wasn't pertinent.
In all, Mansker, who was 23 at the time of the incident with Foley, was involved in three police matters while he was off duty in a little more than a year on the job. One such arrest was too many to Franks.
"On the first one, I would have given him a stern warning that he's not supposed to be pulling people over in an off-duty situation. On the second one, I would have fired him," Franks said. "At that point, with everything you know about him, you know he's a cowboy and it's just a matter of time before something really bad happens."
Amongst the info about Mansker that will not be revealed to the jury: That he was reportedly turned down for employment by 10 agencies before being hired by the Coronado police department and that his father was killed by a drunk driver when Mansker was 13 years old. Mansker apparently has a knack for flagging DUI suspects. In March, Mansker earned an award from Mothers Against Drunk Driving after he made 57 DUI arrests in 2007, the most in the San Diego area.
While none of that may weigh in the case, there is still a significant question about Mansker's decision to tail Foley for approximately 20 minutes from downtown San Diego to suburban Poway. Mansker told investigators that he called for backup, but no one responded until after the shooting, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.
According to Franks and five police officers from around the country contacted by Yahoo! Sports, the instruction or policy for off-duty officers who observe a crime is to only get involved in the most dire of situations.
"Our general policy for off-duty officers in dealing with a situation is that unless action is needed to insure the safety of everyone involved, off-duty officers should request on-duty personnel," said officer Bill Cassell of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.
Said another officer who requested anonymity: "Optimally, what you do if you see someone you think is a drunk driver is follow the driver, call for assistance and act as a witness. You do not make the arrest. Not at all."
Mansker's attorney, Norman Watkins, told the Union-Tribune his client was merely doing "his duty."
During the trial of Foley's female companion, Lisa Gaut, in April 2007, Mansker testified he did not show his badge but verbally identified himself as a police officer. However, California law expressly states that citizens do not have to stop unless the officer is in uniform and in a marked police car.
Once at Foley's home, the situation escalated to the point that Gaut tried to run down Mansker, who fired warning shots and then shot Foley in the hip and left knee.
Mansker claims Foley reached to his waist and Mansker believed Foley was pulling a gun. Mansker claims Foley then charged him. The San Diego County District Attorney backed Mansker's claim that the shooting was legitimate when the DA declined to press charges against Mansker in December 2007.
However, Foley's attorneys claim that Foley's wounds show he was shot from behind.
Regardless of the outcome, Foley's life is forever changed.
"Steve's career is over, his life has been irreparably impacted," said attorney Jordan Cohen, who represents Foley. "Look, Steve did something wrong and he deserved to be punished, no one is disputing that. But that doesn't mean he deserved to be shot."