A federal appeals panel today affirmed a $3.2 million award to an Oakland man and his girlfriend in a false arrest and imprisonment case in which the man claimed Oakland officers planted a gun on him.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Magistrate Judge Edward Chen did not abuse his discretion in awarding the money to Torry Smith and Patricia Gray on March 17, 2008.
Chen found that a civil rights trial that ended in November 2007 with a favorable verdict for Smith and Gray was fair, but reduced the jury’s $6 million award to Smith and Gray to $3 million, saying that the amount awarded to Smith for emotional distress was excessive.
But he kept in place the jury’s punitive damages award of $100,000 against each of the two Oakland police officers, John Parkinson and Marcus Midyett, who arrested Smith in 2004.
Smith, now 27, claimed in his lawsuit that he was falsely accused by the officers of possessing a rifle and that he was wrongly kept in jail for more than four months while an unjustified charge of parole violation was being processed. While in jail he was also awaiting two preliminary hearings, both of which resulted in dismissal of the charges.
Smith was arrested at his home in Oakland on Sept. 10, 2004, by Parkinson and Midyett, who said they saw him trying to hide an assault rifle under some stairs at the back of his house. He claimed the officers planted the rifle.
At the time, Smith was on parole with the California Youth Authority for a juvenile offense. The officers came to his house after they found his bank card in the car belonging to the girlfriend of a paroled drug dealer they were investigating.
Chen wrote in his ruling that the jury found Smith’s “version of the events more plausible” than the officers’ version.
Smith was released in late January 2005 after the criminal charges and the parole revocation charge were dismissed.
In their appeal, Parkinson and Midyett challenged the jury instructions and the admissibility of evidence in the civil trial.
The panel did not find their claims to be valid, and stated, “the officers agreed to the standard about which they now complain and tried the case on the basis of that standard.”
Parkinson and Midyett also argued that they should only be liable for four days of damages for Smith, which was the period of time between when Smith was arrested and when the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office charged him. After that, they argued, the case was in the hands of prosecutors.
But the appeals panel said it was appropriate for the officers to be liable for four months of damages because Smith’s incarceration for an alleged parole violation was based largely on the officers’ arrest report.
Alex Katz, a spokesman for Oakland city attorney John Russo, said Russo will not have a comment until later today.
Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris, who represents Smith, said Smith is “elated” that his case is almost over now, except for a hearing on the amount of attorneys’ fees that the city of Oakland must pay.
Burris said the fees, which will be in addition to the $3.2 million award, will be “significant” because they will cover his time both during the trial and during the appeals process.
Smith went through “a difficult time” after his arrest but is now working and “doing very well,” Burris said.
Burris said he believes Parkinson’s and Midyett’s conduct “was so outrageous they should have been fired at the time and I still think they should be fired.”
Oakland police spokeswoman Holly Joshi said today that both officers are still with the department; Parkinson is a sergeant and Midyett is an officer.