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Jury Awards Florida Man $11,001 for False Arrest and Malicious Prosecution

by Christopher Zoukis

A Leon County, Florida, jury found that two undercover narcotics officers for the Apalachicola Police Department were liable for damages in the false arrest and imprisonment of Willie Baucham in the amount of $11,001.

     On December 28, 2002, Baucham alleged that Officer Gary Hunnings grabbed him from behind, without warning or announcing that he was a police officer, threw him to the ground, and began to punch and kick him. Baucham said Hunnings also made racially discriminatory remarks toward him. After he was handcuffed and as he was being led to the police vehicle, Baucham claimed that Hunnings and Officer Steve James, without provocation, wrestled him to the ground where they punched and kicked him again.

     In their defense, the two officers claimed that they were approached by Baucham who offered to sell them drugs, that they did tell him he was under arrest when they restrained him, that there was already an arrest warrant in effect against him, that the physical force used was necessary, and that he attempted to run away while being led to a police vehicle. They said Baucham resisted them by flailing his arms and kicking his legs so they placed him on the ground where another officer handcuffed him.

     Baucham sued James and Hunnings in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida for false arrest, excessive use of force, malicious prosecution, and violating his Fourth Amendment rights. After more than four hours of deliberation, the jury dismissed the excessive force claim, but found that the two officers maliciously gave false information regarding the intent to sell cocaine and resisting arrest with violence. Since charges could not be filed without this false information, the jury found that the two officers acted in bad faith, exhibiting a willful disregard of human rights. The court levied $5,000 in punitive damages against Hunnings, $6,000 against James, and $1 against James for malicious prosecution.

See: Baucham v. James, et al., United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Tallahassee Division, Case No. 4:06-CV-537 (Dec. 12, 2007).

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Related legal case

Baucham v. James, et al