Excessive force verdict at Flint jail reduced to $11M

By Ed White
Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) - A judge on Tuesday reduced a $36.6 million verdict to $11 million in the case of a man who was pepper-sprayed, hit with a stun gun and restrained face-down at a Flint-area jail.

There is "no doubt" that William Jennings was the victim of excessive force after a drunken driving arrest in Flint Township in 2010, but the jury's award at trial last fall was simply too high, said U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn.

Cohn said Jennings is entitled to $11 million, including $6 million in the form of punitive damages, an award for what is considered to be illegal action by five officers at the Genesee County sheriff's office.

Jail video showed officers acting aggressively after Jennings lowered his hand during a search. He fought back during a struggle and a mask was placed over his head to prevent him from biting or spitting. Jennings was restrained on a bed for more than two hours.

"He feared impending death due to an inability to breathe, a serious form of mental anguish," the judge said. "That said, Jennings did not die from the encounter and was resistant for parts of it, though in reaction to defendants' wrongful conduct."

In court filings, an attorney for the officers, William Reising, said Jennings' treatment wasn't unconstitutional. He said Jennings wasn't compliant and had resisted efforts to contain him.

Cohn said the video was powerful.

"There is an old idiom. 'A picture is worth a thousand words,'" he wrote. "It is attributed to prominent journalists and advertisers in the early 20th century. Little better explains the verdict reached in this case."

Published: Thu, May 25, 2017

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