JACKSON, Miss. — A federal jury has awarded a Madison resident more than $93,000 in a lawsuit against three city police officers for excessive force and for violating his constitutional rights.
The Clarion-Ledger reports the verdict favoring Steve C. Thornton was handed down Aug. 3.
Thornton, an attorney, says the officers used pepper spray and slammed him to the ground in his garage in June 2008 after he complained about the lights of police cars shining into the back of his house next to an intersection where police catch speeders. He said he filed the case in federal court in 2009.
“I felt it best for me and my community to hold them accountable,” he said.
The jury held former officer Thomas Carpenter and current officers James Craft and Ronald Bell liable for excessive force and Carpenter liable for violating Thornton’s right to free speech and for unlawful arrest.
The state case, involving trespassing, false imprisonment, assault, battery, malicious prosecution and intent to inflict emotional distress, is still pending before U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate.
“The verdict of the jury against several police officers appears to be in conflict with the finding of fact by the court with respect to the state claims,” Madison city attorney John Hedglin said. “Until the court rules on several anticipated motions by all parties, it would be premature to comment on the effect of partial rulings on any aspect of the case.”
Clarence Guthrie, Thornton’s attorney, said the jury decision resolves the federal law claims.
Thornton said he was jogging one June morning four years ago when he spotted the police car and decided to ask Carpenter about not shining car lights into his house. Carpenter the day before had ticketed Thornton for not wearing a seat belt, but Thornton said that had nothing to do with the case.
Thornton said the officer used pepper spray on his face and then followed him to his house where Carpenter and the other officers knocked Thornton down before arresting him. Thornton was charged with disobeying a police officer; he was acquitted in Madison County Court in 2009.
Thornton said he was also charged with felony assault on an officer. A Madison County circuit judge threw that case out in 2010.
If the city appeals, Thornton said he is confident the award will stand. “It was a solid trial, a solid verdict.”
Once the judge rules on the state issues, Thornton said he will file to recoup his attorney’s fees from the city.
“It was not about the money,” he said. “The money is just a tool for the jury to use. It’s worth holding them accountable.”