Santa Monica Lookout
|Jury Awards $1.1 Million in Excessive Force Case Against Santa Monica Police||
By Niki Cervantes
September 7, 2016 -- A federal jury Friday awarded $1.1 million to an African American man who sued after Santa Monica police allegedly used excessive force last year while arresting him as he was charging his electric car at a City park.
Justin Palmer, then 36, sued police and City officials in federal court after his April 21, 2015 arrest. The father of four, who lived nearby, said he was injured by two police officers as they forced him to the ground handcuffed and then pepper sprayed his face.
The arrest took place shortly after the park’s 11 p.m. posted closing time ("Attorney Claims 'Super-Aggressive' Santa Monica Officers Roughed Up Client," April 29, 2015).
The Santa Monica Police Department issued a statement Wednesday in response to the verdict.
“The Santa Monica Police Department recognizes and respects the work of the court system and the jury’s decision in the Palmer case,” Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks said.
“We understand the verdict is not, in any way, a general criticism of the men and woman [sic] of the Santa Monica Police Department or of their work,” the chief said.
A decision on whether to appeal the verdict has not been made, the statement said.
“Although the jury reached a verdict, the case has not yet concluded in the trial court, and the City has not yet evaluated prospects for an appeal,” it said.
“We remain steadfast in our goal of continuing to provide Santa Monica with the highest quality of law enforcement services,” Seabrooks said. “We will continue to keep our community safe while respecting the rights of individuals. And, like any committed organization, we strive to learn any lessons taught by our experience.”
Palmer was not immediately available for comment.
Justin Sanders, Palmer’s attorney, has said he did not believe race played a role in his client’s arrest. But the incident sparked demands from activists in the local African American community for a fast-tracked investigation, nonetheless ("Santa Monica Police Chief Responds to Residents’ Racial Profiling Complaints," June 1, 2015).
The Santa Monica-Venice branch of the NAACP said the arrest pointed toward racial profiling, adding that non-African American visitors to Virginia Park said they had never been “approached by SMPD for charging their vehicles after 11:00 p.m.”
Palmer said he continued to suffer from shoulder and neck injuries after his arrest, and was undergoing medical exams and treatment.
Palmer said he arrived at the park's charging station well before 11 p.m. and waited his turn. He had just connected his car when two Santa Monica police officers approached and told him the park was closed, he said.
Sanders said the officers asked Palmer to leave. Palmer questioned the officers. They then asked for his identification, Palmer alleged, with one of them asking him if he was refusing to show his ID.
“My client said, ‘I’m just asking, what did I do wrong?’” said Sanders.
Palmer alleged he was then handcuffed and that his legs were immediately swept from under him by police. The action caused him to land on the side of his face. An officer then pepper sprayed Palmer on his face while he was on the ground, he said.
According to the Santa Monica Police Department, Palmer was arrested for a municipal code violation and resisting arrest.
He subsequently filed a federal lawsuit claiming that excessive force was used in his arrest and the suit was sent to a jury trial.
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