Jury awards Michigan police brutality victim nearly $37mn

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The victim of a brutal police beating has been awarded $36.6 million in mostly punitive damages after a jury found five Genesee County Sheriff's officers used excessive force.

William Jennings, 42, was arrested in Michigan for driving drunk in September 2010. When he was going through intake at Genesee County Jail, things quickly went from standard procedure to a takedown by police. Thrown to the floor, Jennings was then beaten by the officers.

The entire incident captured by a jailhouse camera was shown to the jury, which decided to award Jennings $36.6 million, more than double the $16 million requested by his attorney.

"I asked them for $16 million. I think they thought the conduct was extremely outrageous and returned a verdict that exceeded what we asked for,” Kevin Ernst, attorney for Jennings, told WJBK.

An award of this sum is unusual in these kinds of cases. The family of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old shot and killed by a Cleveland police officer in 2014, received $6 million in a settlement with the city of Cleveland. The family of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man killed by an NYPD officer in 2014, received a $5.9 million settlement.

Defense lawyers justified the five officers’ actions by claiming that Jennings was “admittedly drunk” and "non-compliant, resistant and combative during the booking process" after he was arrested for drunk driving and was believed to have been in a fight at a bar in Flint, the Detroit Free Press reported.

"The force and maneuvers utilized were appropriate to control the situation," the defense claimed.

However, the tape shows him being dogpiled by multiple police officers that began after Jennings removed his hand from the wall during a pat down.

"They attacked him in the jail. Then they handcuffed him and continued to assault him, smashing his face into the wall," Jennings’ other attorney, Dean Elliott, told the Free Press. "They took him into a safety cell ... covered his mouth, Tasered him and put a bag over his head and tied him down."

"I ended up busting my tooth chewing a hole in the mask so I could breathe,“ Jennings told WJBK, adding, “I thought I was going to die.

The award is believed to be a symbolic gesture that speaks to the nature of Jennings’ attack, "I think that the jurors were sending a message to the sheriff that these kinds of actions cannot go on," Elliott said.

The defense has already made plans to appeal the decision and possibly get the award reduced. Defense attorney Christopher Scott told the Free Press that “an appeal will be undertaken, if needed, as the verdict is not supported by the law or facts."

Whether the award is reduced or given in full doesn’t seem to matter much to Jennings, who told WJBK, "I am not the same person and I never will be. Can you put a number on that? I don't know."