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$2,250 Jury Award in Arkansas Prisoner’s Excessive Force Case

In a verdict handed down on August 21, 2014, a federal jury found in favor of an Arkansas prisoner who claimed prison guards had provoked him into attacking them so they could beat him. The jury award of $2,250 included compensatory and punitive damages.

Keith Moore, a state prisoner, was incarcerated at the Grimes Unit in Newport when Sgts. James Hill and Lantz Goforth approached him, along with Sgt. Richard Lee and Cpl. Charles Poole. According to court documents, Lee told Moore that he was being placed under investigation and ordered him to turn around so he could be restrained.

Moore protested, saying he had done nothing wrong. Lee told him there was a report that he had been in a verbal altercation with another prisoner. Moore asked to speak to a higher-ranking prison official, then Lee and Goforth used a chemical agent on him.

Infuriated, Moore hit Lee in the back with his fist. In response, Hill began continuously striking Moore in the face and left side of his head. Moore was sprayed again; he dropped to his knees and then the floor, no longer resisting.

Hill knelt atop Moore’s back and started hitting him all over his body with a closed fist. With Goforth, Lee and Poole holding Moore down and preventing him from curling up on the floor, Hill continued the assault. Moore’s hands were cuffed behind his back, then Hill kicked him in the eye with the toe of his boot.

Moore suffered permanent damage to his left eye, rendering his vision 20/200 in that eye. He also suffered a brain contusion and injury to his right thumb. He filed a pro se federal civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all four guards, alleging Hill and Goforth used excessive force and Goforth, Lee and Poole failed to stop Hill’s use of excessive force.

A ten-man, two-woman jury took about five hours to reach a verdict. They found in Moore’s favor against Hill and Goforth, while finding in favor of Lee and Poole. The jury awarded $500 in compensatory damages and $1,000 in punitive damages against Hill, and $250 in compensatory damages and $500 in punitive damages against Goforth. Both were found liable in their individual capacities.

Little Rock attorney David Hargis was appointed by the court to represent Moore pro bono. Hargis praised Moore, noting that he had won the initial part of the lawsuit on his own.

“He’s a bright guy,” said Hargis. “Finally a little win in his life.”

Considering the injuries that Moore received, though, it was a paltry win. The Arkansas Department of Corrections took no disciplinary action against the guards. The district court denied a post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law, and the state paid the compensatory damages in February 2015 and the punitive damages in April 2015. See:  Moore v. Hill, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Ark.), Case No. 5:12-cv-00206-DPM.

Additional sources: Associated Press, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

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Related legal case

Moore v. Hill