Paralyzed U student settles lawsuit, differs with police in account of shooting

by Rocky Thompson

A 19-year-old University first-year student, paralyzed from the waist down after being shot twice by an Apple Valley police officer more than two years ago, has settled a federal civil rights lawsuit for more than $3 million.

Gennadiy Balandin, who filed the suit, said the settlement is the largest of this kind in the state’s history. Apple Valley police and city officials maintain there was no wrongdoing.

On Oct. 28, 2000, Balandin – a Russian immigrant who speaks three languages fluently – went with five high school friends to a party, where he took LSD for the first time.

Five hours after taking LSD, Balandin wandered outside the party and took off his clothes. He talked loudly to himself and believed the cold weather would sober him up, according to court documents.

Jim Eagle, a 23-year veteran of the Apple Valley Police Department, responded to a complaint in the area at approximately 3:30 a.m.

Apple Valley Police Chief Scott Johnson said Eagle found a pile of clothes on the street and pulled them into his car to search for identification.

Here, the accounts of what happened differ.

Balandin said he approached the squad car to ask for help because he felt cold and nauseated from the drug.

He said he sped up to catch the moving squad car but awkwardly ran into the door frame.

Balandin said he asked for help, mumbling in Russian and English while Eagle yelled at him to get away from the car.

“He wasn’t listening and he didn’t really care what I was saying,” Balandin said.

He repeated his request for help and Eagle opened the car door and pointed his gun at him, he said.

Balandin said he tried to get away from the car as quickly as possible but his coordination had been compromised by the drugs.

Eagle shot him once in the left hip and once in the right upper back.

The second shot left Balandin paralyzed.

Johnson described the events differently. He said while Eagle searched the clothes, “The next thing he knows, the door is thrown open and the kid is in the squad car on top of him.”

Johnson said Balandin, who weighed 220 pounds at the time, climbed on top of Eagle and struggled for the gun.

“If Balandin gets that gun, (Eagle) knows he’s dead,” Johnson said.

Johnson said Eagle got Balandin off him while the car was moving and fired his gun three times when Balandin was falling.

“The officer did exactly what he was trained to do, and we support him 110 percent,” Johnson said.

Balandin said it’s his word against the officer’s, but he said he believes forensic evidence supports his version.

Johnson said the Apple Valley City Council decided to settle out of court for $3,050,000.

The city’s insurance covers damages up to $3 million, so Johnson said the city will pay the additional $50,000.

There are no caps in federal court on the amount of money a jury can award, which the City Council considered in its decision to settle, Johnson said.

Balandin said after covering lawyer’s fees and medical bills, he’ll divide the rest into two accounts: one to cover ongoing medical expenses and the other for his education.

He is enrolled in General College and taking required courses, and he said he hopes to major in math or engineering and neuroscience.

Balandin said he wants to research the physiology of logic, memory and perception, identifying the brain’s pathways and eventually learning how to synthesize them.

“Basically,” he said, “how can you make a computer that thinks like a human brain by reverse engineering?”

Rocky Thompson covers police and crime and welcomes comments at [email protected]