Farmington to settle wrongful arrest lawsuit

Steve Garrison

FARMINGTON — A Colorado man has settled his false arrest lawsuit against the Farmington Police Department.

Farmington City Attorney Jennifer Breakell said today the city has agreed to pay $30,000 to settle Christopher Winterhawk's federal lawsuit. She said the settlement will be finalized next week.

"We reached the final settlement for economic reasons," Breakell said. "We firmly believe the officer did nothing wrong, and we stand by the officer's decision."

Winterhawk's attorney, Arlon Stoker, said his client was happy and pleased with the terms of the agreement. He said the settlement agreement was reached Wednesday.

Winterhawk, 47, of Ignacio, Colo., was arrested in June 2015 after his vehicle was linked to the burglary of an Aztec residence.

Farmington police Officer Jon Lillywhite learned on March 27, 2015, two women were attempting to use forged checks to purchase goods in Farmington, according to a police report. One clerk told Lillywhite the women left his store in a blue Chevrolet, the report states. He provided the officer the vehicle's license plate number, and Lillywhite learned the vehicle was registered to Winterhawk, according to the report.

On April 1, Lilllywhite found the vehicle parked outside a residence on Ouray Avenue in Farmington, the report states. A man at the residence told the officer the vehicle's owner, Winterhawk, was allowing him to test drive it.

Police seized the vehicle and found inside it items allegedly stolen from the Aztec residence, according to the report. Lillywhite then obtained a warrant for Winterhawk's arrest.

Winterhawk was charged April 6, 2015, in Farmington Magistrate Court with residential burglary and receiving stolen property, a petty misdemeanor. But the state dismissed the charges on July 10.

Winterhawk alleged in the lawsuit Lillywhite never contacted him before issuing the warrant. Had he done so, Winterhawk said he would have told the officer he had gifted the vehicle to his ex-girlfriend several months before the burglary. Winterhawk further claimed he was in Ignacio on the day of the burglary.

Winterhawk filed the lawsuit Nov. 9 in the Eleventh Judicial District. It was refiled in federal court on Nov. 24.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.