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California Woman Awarded $149,400 for Excessive Force by Jail Officials

by Christopher Zoukis

Karen Carter, a 43-year-old dental hygienist, was awarded $149,400 by a federal jury after they found that four Santa Clara, California, jail guards used excessive force against her.

On April 3, 2005, Carter was escorted out of a bar by two bouncers. Carter called the police, who, upon arriving, arrested her for public intoxication. During the booking process, in which Carter admitted to being intoxicated, she contended that guards Michelle Asban, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Thomas Duran, and Elmer Wheeler used an unnecessary amount of force against her. She claimed that Asban and Rodriguez twisted her arm to get her to spit out her gum, and that Rodriguez twisted and pulled her fingers while she was being fingerprinted. Pulling her arm back to avoid this, Carter said the officers slammed her to the floor, sat on her, and beat her for several minutes. She was then left alone in a cell strapped to a restraint chair for 2 1/2 hours.

Carter sued the four jail guards in federal court for violating her civil rights by using excessive force. She claimed to have suffered bruising and strains to her neck, back and arms that permanently precluded her from returning to work, where she earned about $120,000 per year. She asked the court for three years of lost wages, medical expenses and loss of future income in excess of $400,000.

The defense argued that Carter was combative and resistant during the booking process, including attempting to bite one of the officers, and that the force used was reasonable under the circumstances.

The jury awarded Carter $40,500 ($31,500 for lost earnings and $9,000 in medical expenses) and an additional $108,900 for legal expenses. Carter was represented by Michael G. Ackerman of the firm Ackerman & Kevorkian of Santa Clara, California, and Scott S. Furstman of the Law Offices of Scott S. Furstman of San Jose, California.

See: Carter v. Asban, et al., United States District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose Division, Case No. 5:05-cv-03974-JF (Feb. 28, 2008).

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