Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Triplet of Austin PD court losses over police abuse may signal trend

A federal jury recently awarded $877,000 to a man who sued the Austin PD "after police in 2012 tackled him and detained him for a crime he did not commit." That makes three recent cases where the City of Austin was ordered to pay out sizable sums for alleged police abuse. The Statesman quoted local attorney Adam Loewy, who represented the family of the late Larry Jackson Jr., whose parents and widow last week received a $600,000 settlement from the city, suggesting that:
with the Hernandez case, plus one last year in which a jury found that Charles Chacon was subjected to unnecessary force by Austin police officers, “I believe the tide is finally turning.”

“In the post-Ferguson (Missouri) environment,” Loewy said, “I think jurors are much more open to the idea that police brutalize people.”
If he's right, that would signal a major shift.

For some years now, many advocates including your correspondent have considered civil courts a non-viable avenue for police reform in Texas because of qualified immunity, a culture of tort-reform among state judges, and the prosecutor-friendly 5th Circuit waiting to reduce or overturn any verdict that might be achieved at trial. It's one of the reasons Grits focuses so much on the Legislature; there's been more possibility for significant change at the capitol than via litigation on most of the issues I care about. In my experience, the Legislature can occasionally help matters; the most Grits tends to hope for from the courts is that they do not make things worse.

But these things run in cycles. And the vicissitudes of history appear to be altering the context of conversations about police abuse, both among jurors and officialdom. So far, with the exception of new reporting on police shootings, we haven't seen much legislative action on these topics. But if jury verdicts and settlements start to pile up, and the 5th Circuit makes cities actually pay them, that will heighten the incentive for legislators and locals alike to embrace reforms.


Anonymous said...

The legislative fix is to require LEOs to carry liabilty insurance and repeal indemnification and representation for their bad acts.

Anonymous said...

The continuous barrage of YouTube videos showing police misconduct affects not only the jury pool but also the judges. Judges gradually have to accept the notion that its not just a few bad cops who are to blame. What the videos show is that misconduct is endemic to policing and the judges and juries are reacting to that.

JJ said...

Anyone who desires to choose a public service career in law enforcement is absolutely misguided on exactly what that career will entail. What we're seeing is a shift in the paradigm of responsibility for LE. The agencies aren't going to be the sole recipients of any derogatory civil actions. They are going to shift that burden to their employees. Much like the shift in cost production to consumers, individual officers are going to be the sole recipients of their decisions in that promoting an ill-prepared agency program will inevitably be paid for with the sacrifice of individual officers' civil and criminal liability. Whoever wants to be the sacrificial lamb will undoubtedly enjoy moments of achievement, but ultimately will end up being the demon of present day social ills. By all means, go forth and save the world. But do so knowing you're the one who will ultimately be the blame for whatever goes wrong. No wonder the police unions are so vicious these days. They saw this coming a long time ago. And then there are the agencies with no union representation whatsoever. Those poor lambs.

Anonymous said...

Using cases from the city of Austin to make your point doesn't work if the reader realizes that Travis county is the most liberal county in Texas. Similar cases in places like Montgomery or Fort Bend county would most definitely not produce the large judgements. Like most every other thing you can imagine, police misconduct has become politicized with republicans always taking the side of cops regardless of the situation. This can be evidenced by reader comments left below articles on conservative news sites such as FOX. Democrats on the other hand are just the opposite with most decrying the brutality and murders of innocent citizens and this can also be easily verified by reading the Washington Post or Huffington Post, both bastions of liberalism. We have even seen this in the presidential race with Donald Trump championing police while Bernie Sanders is wanting to hold cops accountable. No, the tide hasn't begun to turn, and won't as long as there are republicans.

john said...

The police unions are strong and dirty, worse than teacher unions. But they're nothing compare to the lawyers' union (The Bar Ass). Prosecutors that manipulate Grand Juries away from and cop indictments further the Cops War On America. Now that the politicians have armed & utilized police for their own backup, I don't know if we can get back to justice. There are just too many rich in the lawyer's union, and too many who go along in the police union, etc.
Of course, it doesn't even have to be unions, literally. The evil culture has long been there; and it went on that way mostly because whitey won't riot. So MAYBE we'll see a change, but part of the reason the feds have unconstitutionally armed their idiot bureaucracy alphabet "Agencies" is exactly BECAUSE they (& esp., politicians) fear whitey might awaken.
Elected Sheriffs have made some good headway, trying to get back to the Constitution, but nobody in higher power wants that.