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Oregon Jury Awards $11,250 for False Arrest

On November 7, 2012, a Vancouver, Washington, man who was arrested for refusing to consent to a police search of his pockets was awarded $11,250.

Sometime after midnight, in November, 2009, Jose Gasque, then 29, was sitting on a Portland, Oregon, curb in an alley next to a building formerly occupied by Burger King. He was waiting for a friend to finish smoking a cigarette, when Portland Police Officer Tequila Thurman drove up to the men and shined a bright light on them. She asked them for identification and ran their names, checking for warrants. Neither man had a criminal history.

Thurman then asked to search their pockets. Gasque's friend consented and was allowed to leave, but Gasque believed the officer was violating his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches. In fact, he reached into a pocket and pulled out an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) "Know Your Rights" guide and told her so. She was not impressed.

Thurman arrested Gasque on suspicion of criminal trespass for being on what she believed was private property closed to the public, according to testimony from an ensuing three-day trial. Gasque was handcuffed, his clothing was searched and he was transported to jail, where he was booked and held for more than four hours.

"He was clearly given this Catch-22 by the officer, 'You can let us search you, or we'll arrest you and then we'll search you,"' said David Fidanque, executive director of the ACLU of Oregon.

ACLU attorney Bronson James filed suit on behalf of Gasque in state court and the case proceeded to trial. Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Dailey found Defendants liable, ruling that the alley was open to the public and that Thurman falsely arrested Gasque and committed assault and battery against him when she cuffed him too tightly and put him in her patrol car to transport him to jail. The issue of damages was sent to a jury.

City Attorney Bill Manlove argued against damages, telling jurors that Thurman thought she smelled marijuana. After searching his friend, she still wanted to search Gasque because he could have been a drug dealer, said Manlove. Neither man had any drugs on them.

Jurors deliberated for about two hours before awarding Gasque $11,250 of the $49,250, he requested.

Fidanque said the verdict should send a message to Portland police that they need to respect people's constitutional rights. Law-abiding people have a right to refuse searches without probable cause, he said.

Describing the arrest as "terrifying," Gasque, a development engineer and father of an 11-year-old son, said the case was "never about the money," and he felt vindicated by the verdict.

Source: The Oregonian

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