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Jury Awards Oregon Man $306,000 Excessive Force Verdict

On December 10, 2012, a Portland, Oregon man was awarded $306,000 for false arrest, excessive force and malicious prosecution.

Gallagher Smith, then 25, argued with a doorman at a Portland nightclub on November 13, 2010. The doorman told Smith he had to wait at the end of a long line, even though he had already been in the club and had his hand stamped before stepping outside. After the doorman flagged down police, Smith walked away from the club as police followed.

Smith asked police what law he was breaking by standing on a public sidewalk but officers did not answer. Instead, they attempted to handcuff him, but Smith pulled his arms into his chest.

An officer responded by immediately punching him in the face. He later claimed that Smith clenched his fists and displayed aggressive body language, but Smith's lawyers noted that he never hit or kicked police.

Nevertheless, Officer Patrick Johnson fired his Taser at Smith, but the probes did not pierce his skin. Officer Sean MacFarland then successfully deployed his Taser.

Johnson pepper-sprayed Smith twice as police punched him in the back, because, he claimed later, Smith was disobeying orders to stay on the ground. Eventually six officers piled on top of Smith while he was handcuffed and his feet were tied to his wrists.
Smith suffered a black eye, road rash on his face and Taser marks on his abdomen. He was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Portland Police Bureau's internal affairs unit investigated the incident and cleared the officers of any wrongdoing, according to police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson.

Police charged Smith with criminal trespass, interference with a police officer and resisting arrest. In June 2011, a judge found Smith guilty of attempted second degree criminal trespass – a violation akin to a traffic infraction – while acquitting him of all other charges.

Smith then brought suit against the officers and the City of Portland in the Multnomah County Circuit Court.

Before trial, Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Youlee You ruled that police did not have probable cause to arrest Smith.

During closing arguments of a four-day trial, Smith's attorney, Jason Kafoury, told the jury that police hoped to avoid a lawsuit by securing a criminal conviction against Smith, once they realized he did not have a criminal record and they were wrong to assault and arrest him.
"Some of you may be wondering, 'Why don't you just say, "Yes, sir" and keep on moving?' Kafoury acknowledged to the jury. "There's one thing that history has proven: if we don't defend our rights, we lose them."

Defense counsel, on the other hand, acknowledged that officers lacked probable cause to arrest Smith, but claimed that they were simply using their best judgment in a difficult situation.

"We get these ideas that police officers are these automatons – they're robots, right?" Deputy City Attorney David Landrum asked the jury. "They're just people, and we put them in this position when you're having trouble, when something is going wrong, it's as simple as ordering a pizza. You dial them up... They've got to figure out what's going on and 'What do I do about it?'”

Jurors weren't buying it. On December 10, 2012, the jury returned one of the largest excessive force jury verdicts against the City in recent memory, awarding Smith nearly $16,000 in criminal defense legal fees, medical bills and counseling costs. It also awarded him $290,000 for pain and suffering.

After the verdict, Juror Patty Smith (obviously no relation) said police were wrong to assault and arrest Smith. She said that most of the verdict was an acknowledgement of his lasting psychological injuries.

Asked after the verdict how he felt, Smith hugged his lawyers and said "Relieved!"

Source: The Oregonian

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