Columbus Council agrees to pay $500,000 to settle lawsuit involving three police officers in Arreola case

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COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — Columbus Council voted unanimously Tuesday afternoon to settle a civil lawsuit brought against the city and three police officers in the 2017 death of Hector Arreola.

The city agreed to pay the Arreola estate $500,000 to end all claims against the city and its employees. The settlement agreement comes less than a month before the case was scheduled for trial in federal court.

Attorneys on all sides wasted no time in making the settlement official. A motion to dismiss the case was filed in the Middle District of Georgia requesting that the case be dismissed because of a settlement. It was the first filing in the case in about a month.

“The mayor and council concluded that the settlement was in the best interest of the Consolidated Government, law enforcement, and all citizens of Columbus,” a statement from the city read.

Mayor Skip Henderson expanded on that in an interview with News 3 after the vote.

“Council decided that it was in the best interest of everyone involved, to include the Arreola family, the law enforcement personnel involved, the citizens of Columbus, Georgia,” Henderson said. “It gives us an opportunity, maybe to begin some healing on this.” 

That is how Councilor Walker Garrett, an attorney who made the motion to settle the suit, sees it.

“This has nothing to do with any indictment the DA decides to go for,” Garrett said. “We think that the judge had made a pretty emphatic statement about the fact that there was precious little evidence to warrant a murder charge in this instance. We are focused now on the civil aspect, and it allows the family to begin the healing process.” 

That statement was handed to a reporter moments after the council vote. It came after a nine-minute executive session.

U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land denied a second motion for stay filed by the defense in the civil case of Hector Arreola’s death.

Lawyers for Officer Michael Aguilar, Officer Brian Dudley, and Officer Aaron Evrard were asking for a postponement because of the possibility of criminal charges. Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Mark Jones has appointed private attorney Chris Breault as a special prosecutor. They plan to present the case to a Grand Jury.

Henderson said the civil settlement has no impact on potential criminal charges.

“This has nothing to do with any indictment the DA decides to go for,” Henderson told News 3/ “We think that the judge had made a pretty emphatic statement about the fact that there was precious little evidence to warrant a murder charge in this instance. We are focused now on the civil aspect, and it allows the family to begin the healing process.” 

News 3 has reached out to Jones are is awaiting comment.

This was the second motion filed for stay by the defense in the civil case. The original trial date was set for June 7th, but was pushed back to August 9th.

Hector Arreola died while in police custody in January 2017 originally a Georgia medical examiner ruled Arreola’s death was caused by methamphetamine toxicity. In August 2020 a GBI medical examiner ruled the death a homicide.

The official autopsy document was changed to read “sudden cardiac death following a struggle with law enforcement including prone position restraint complicating acute methamphetamine toxicity.”

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