Lake County has reached a settlement with a Lowell woman who accused a county police officer of sexually assaulting her while he was on the job.
The officer, Samuel Orlich Jr., resigned from the police department Friday, Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez said.
The agreement avoids a civil trial that would have determined whether the sheriff’s department was liable for Orlich’s actions when he allegedly assaulted Rebecca Zander in 2013.
“The issue of settlement will dismiss all parties with prejudice,” Alfredo Estrada, a Merrillville-based attorney representing the county, told The Times Monday.
Estrada declined to discuss financial terms of the settlement, citing ongoing litigation.
The settlement winds down a five-year legal dispute between Lake County and Zander, who sued both Orlich and then-Sheriff John Buncich over the alleged attack.
Zander claimed that Orlich, who had responded to a domestic dispute with her then-husband, drove her to a second house and then placed his hands on her breasts and initiated a sexual encounter.
Orlich denied assaulting Zander and claimed she initiated the sexual contact.
In 2014, a Lake County grand jury indicted Orlich on one count of official misconduct, but the prosecutor's office dropped the charge in a deal that required Orlich to undergo treatment for impulse control. Orlich also was placed on one year of departmental probation.
After the criminal prosecution was withdrawn, Zander sought damages against Orlich, Buncich and Lake County in a federal civil lawsuit. A federal jury found the county liable for Orlich’s actions and awarded her $375,000.
The legal dispute continued in 2017 when a federal magistrate ruled the county wasn’t responsible for Orlich's actions under a legal doctrine that makes an employer liable if an employee harms someone while acting in the scope of their employment.
However, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in October 2018 that a jury should decide whether the sheriff’s department was liable for damages.
The settlement between Zander and Lake County was reached March 28 through a court-appointed mediator, according to court documents. Both parties have until April 26 to file dismissal papers.