California Highway Patrol Officers Found Guilty of Abusing 72-Year-Old But Judge Rescinds Most Damages

In yet another police abuse story, two California Highway Patrol officers were found guilty of using excessive force and violating the constitutional rights of 72-year-old Jack Nolan in 2006. What is remarkable is that after a jury found in his favor and issued a very reasonable $75,000 award, the judge reduced its to medical bills alone. Such judicial intervention is precisely why we lack of deterrent for certain forms of government abuses.

Redding CHP officers Joe Van Houtte and Greg Ziegler were convicted of using excessive force while a third defendant, Officer Jim Carter, was found not to be liable.

The jury found that the officers immediately learned that the address on a search warrant was different from Nolan’s address. That should have ended the matter. However, Nolan testified that he was thrown to the floor and struck and kneed repeatedly in the head and neck. The jury decision after a four-day trial appears entirely reasonable and their award of $75,000 in punitive damages seems quite modest under the circumstances. However, Judge Joseph Harvey threw out the punitive award, limiting Nolan simply to re-payment of his medical bills.

It appears that Judge Harvey believes that a citizen should be simply made whole by medically attending his injuries, but that punitive damages (even small damages) are out of line in such a police abuse case. This effectively makes public abuse verdict a small price of doing business for the department. Indeed, at this rate, they could easily internalize the cost of more widespread abuses.

The police insisted the Nolan was already upset over a disagreement with neighbors when they arrived. However, the jury obviously did not accept that excuse. Nolan was restrained in front of his companion Diane Autry and his 2-year-old granddaughter. His lawyers showed that the officers had run a DMV check that showed that he was elderly before the search and were told immediately about the mistake.
he claimed head and neck injuries that caused optical damage requiring two surgeries (though Harvey told the jury to disregard the eye injuries).

It is also notably that Nolan was charged with obstructing or delaying a police officer, but the charge later was dropped. Notably, this is something that we often see in police abuse cases. When officers use excessive or unwarranted force, they will sometimes charge the person to create a record to such a good-faith stop or arrest. For such cases, click here and here.

Obviously, such officers remain a small fraction of law enforcement personnel. However, rulings like this serve only to destroy effective deterrence of abuse.

For the full story, click here.

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