September 9, 2016 (Fault Lines) — The family of a black man assaulted by South Bend, Indiana police in a case of mistaken identity is outraged after a jury awarded them just $18 in a lawsuit accusing the officers of violating his constitutional rights.
“We’re black, so we automatically lose,” the young man’s father, Dan Franklin, told the South Bend Tribune. “The boy should’ve got something — they punched him, shot him in the side with a Taser gun — but we had nobody on our side.”
The lawsuit stemmed from an incident in July, 2012, when South Bend police officers responded an early morning domestic violence call. A 31-year-old woman told police her boyfriend, Franklin’s older brother, assaulted her. She told them she thought he might be headed to his parents’ house.
Franklin’s mother answered the door and officers, guns drawn, pushed their way inside the home. They found DeShawn Franklin, then 17, asleep in his bed. The officers attempted to handcuff the sleeping teenager. Startled, he leapt out of bed and was punched three times in the face. He was also tasered, forcibly handcuffed and stuffed into a patrol car for good measure.
“I didn’t even know what was going on. I was just asleep,” Franklin told The Washington Post. “It was just all a big shock and disturbance.”
The police officers soon realized that they had the wrong man. His brother, Dan Frankin, was never arrested for the alleged domestic violence incident. The officers apologized to DeShawn Franklin and acknowledged their actions were out of line, according to a police report.
On August 1, 2016, a federal jury ruled in a Fort Wayne courtroom that the three officers — Aaron Knepper, Eric Mentz and Michael Stuk — had violated Franklin’s constitutional rights against unlawful search and seizure.
But to the outrage of the Franklin family, it ordered the three officers to each pay DeShawn Franklin and his parents a mere $1 each for violating their constitutional protection against unlawful entry and another $1 each for violating their constitutional protection against unlawful seizure, for a total of $18. The jury rejected claims of false arrest or false imprisonment and battery.
To add insult to injury, Indy Star also reports that the city is requiring Franklin’s family and their attorney to pay roughly $1,500 for expenses incurred by the city in defending their case. Under federal rules, the city can collect its costs because the jury award was less than a settlement previously offered to the Franklin family.
[The officers’ attorney, Peter] Agostino said the city made four settlement offers to the Franklin family. The family said they were offered $15,000 to settle. Agostino said higher amounts were offered, but declined to say how much higher. The family opted for trial, and the jury, one African American and five white individuals, reached its verdict Aug. 1.
The Rev. Mario Sims, a senior pastor in South Bend, Ind., where Franklin lives, told Indy Star the small award sends a strong message to Franklin and his family: “Your rights are worth a dollar.”
There were hopes that the system would work, and the system failed them miserably. The system determined that, yes, there was a violation of their constitutional rights, but essentially so what? They didn’t value their rights.
Agostino explained that there were no “hard” damages.
Agostino called DeShawn Franklin “an outstanding young man” and acknowledged that some compensation was warranted. During trial, though, Agostino said the plaintiffs failed to prove damages beyond the rights violations. For example, no wages were lost or medical bills incurred.
However, Franklin’s attorney noted that cases such as these often result in awards of “$100,000 and $300,000,” and could offer no reasonable explanation why this jury awarded only $18 for what everyone involved concedes was a violation of his constitutional rights.
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