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Eighth Circuit Upholds $10,000 Excessive Force Verdict Against University Police

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an excessive force verdict and $10,000 damage award.

On January 1, 2005, Charles F. Gill attended a New Year's Eve party at a bar near the University of Minnesota campus. Gill and another bar patron fought and were escorted out of the bar.

When Gill attempted to re-enter the bar, he struggled with security and University police intervened. Gill did not resist as police forced him to the pavement. Yet, while Gill was on the ground, officer Geoff Maciejewski took three steps toward him and dropped a knee to his head.

Gill was arrested and taken to jail. After bailing him out, Gill's father took him to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with five facial-bone fractures, a concussion and bleeding into the brain. Gill's injuries required corrective surgery.

Gill was charged with obstructing legal process and disorderly conduct, but a jury acquitted him of both charges. He then brought federal suit, alleging excessive force.

A jury returned a verdict for Gill and awarded him $10,000 in compensatory damages. Gill also received $9,906.98 from his insurer to cover his treatment costs.

The district court denied Maciejewski's motion for judgment as a matter of law (JAML), and the Eighth Circuit affirmed.

The appellate court held that the "evidence fully supports the jury's finding of excessive force and is sufficient to withstand Maciejewski's JAML motion." The court also rejected Maciejewski's argument that "the district court improperly excluded evidence of Gill's criminal history, and statements made by Gill's counsel during his criminal trial."

The court then found that the district court's jury instructions were proper and that the court did not err in refusing to reduce the $10,000 jury award by the amount of medical benefits Gill received from his insurer." Finally, the court upheld the award of costs and attorney's fees, concluding: "Despite Maciejewski's protestations, it is beyond peradventure Gill succeeded in vindicating the asserted constitutional violation. Thus, we reject Maciejewski's contrary arguments as without merit… we find the fee award was not excessive." See: Gill v. Maciejewski, 546 F.3d 557 (8th Cir. 2008).

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Related legal case

Gill v. Maciejewski