A FEDERAL COURT JURY ruled against Multnomah County Sheriff's Deputy Richard Hathaway this week, finding him liable for excessive force and battery related to an altercation with an inmate in the booking area of the county jail. The incident, captured on jail video in September 2006, showed Hathaway striking inmate Michael Evans repeatedly with closed fists as he brought Evans to the ground ["Summary Injustice," News, July 19, 2007]—including punching Evans in the head.
"Our decision basically came down to one thing that we could all agree on," an unnamed juror told the Mercury after the delivery of the verdict on Tuesday, December 15. "We all agreed that a blow to the head was excessive force."
Nevertheless, the jury only awarded damages of $500 to Evans—$250 for the excessive force claim under federal law and $250 for the battery claim under Oregon law.
The jury also found in favor of three other officers involved in a melee after Evans was brought to the ground—exonerating Sheriff's Deputy Robert Griffith, Sergeant Cathline Gorton, and Portland Police Bureau Officer Ryan Albertson for their role in bringing Evans under control. The three were variously accused of excessive force, assault, and battery.
Hathaway was also exonerated on claims of malicious prosecution—Evans was charged with assaulting a public safety officer following the altercation, but the charges were dropped after Hathaway repeatedly failed to show up in court.
The jury's financial award was considerably lower than the plaintiff had been seeking: Evans wanted punitive damages of $60,000 against Deputy Griffith, $120,000 against Deputy Hathaway, and $60,000 against Officer Albertson. During the trial, City Attorney David Landrum repeatedly referred jurors to the fact that Evans had written to a friend about the case, asking the question, "Who wants to be a millionaire?"
Evans had also refused a larger offer of settlement in the case from Multnomah County, prior to the trial. Evans, who is serving time for two felony convictions dating back to last summer, was led out of the court in leg shackles after the verdict.
Evans looked very different in court than he did in the jail video showing his beating. Dressed in a suit and tie, and having grown out his hair, he also seemed to have lost some of his bulk from his appearance in a black muscle shirt in the jail booking area. He asked for a tissue before taking the stand, saying he "still gets very emotional" when he thinks about the incident. The jury was instructed to weigh Evans' felony convictions when considering the value of his testimony.
Two jurors told the Mercury afterward that their verdict was not swayed by the high damages sought by Evans in the case. "We separated that out," said one juror who preferred not to be named.
An expert's report filed with the court prior to the trial made troubling allegations about jail deputies routinely punching inmates in the head as a control technique ["Punched in the Head," News, Nov 19]. Ultimately, however, Judge Anna Brown precluded its admission as evidence in the case.
Arguments in the case focused on whether Evans had been resisting the sheriff's deputies by refusing to have his fingerprints taken on a property receipt: Evans told the court he didn't want to fingerprint the receipt because he didn't know where his guns were—they'd been seized during his arrest. He had testified in earlier depositions to being "Gandhi-like" in his behavior in the booking area.
Meanwhile the county argued that Evans had jerked his arm back "like a hand from a hot stove," refusing to have his prints taken, and he begun actively resisting from then on. As a result, Deputy Hathaway and the other officers had to quickly control a potentially dangerous inmate.
In his closing arguments, County Attorney Stephen Madkour told jurors that sheriff's deputies' jobs are "dangerous, demanding, and underappreciated," but that they do their job "with pride and distinction."
"Now we're hearing that they're also liars," Madkour continued. "He comes into our jail in his black muscle shirt with his barbell nipple rings telling us how it's going to be."
In his closing arguments, Evans' attorney, Benjamin Haile, urged the jurors to side with the "95 percent of law enforcement officers who do serve justly, and send a message to them that revenge beatings and dishonesty do not have to be a part of this."
Haile also focused on inconsistencies between the video and Deputy Hathaway's report about the incident, in which Hathaway claimed to have warned Evans to "stop resisting" before each strike with his fist—such warnings are not evident in the video.
"We're pleased with the result," said Assistant County Attorney Carlos Calandriello, after court had adjourned.
Evans' attorney, Haile, declined comment on the verdict, as did Deputy Hathaway.
"So do I have to pay the $250?" asked Hathaway, who looms large at 6'7" and weighing at least 250 pounds, after the verdict.
"No, we can afford it," County Attorney Madkour responded.
"My point is, for all this, and all that crap, I'll gladly pay $250," Hathaway told him. "I'm out of here. I'm gonna go home and have a drink."