Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Jury refuses claim over arrest in Dover; but one defendant settled for $225,000 moments before

Posted By on Tue, Oct 6, 2015 at 2:47 PM

$225,000 SETTLEMENT: The case of the Robinson family flanked at left by attorney Pat James and right by Holly Dickson while Rita SKlar of ACLU explains lawsuit in 2013.
  • $225,000 SETTLEMENT: The case of the Robinson family flanked at left by attorney Pat James and right by Holly Dickson while Rita SKlar of ACLU explains lawsuit in 2013.

On the second day of deliberation, a federal court jury today declined to find in favor of a lawsuit by Eva and Pat Robinson and their son Matthew, who said excessive force had been used against the 16-year-old boy and his mother in a 2011 incident in Dover.

But the suit had been settled against one defendant for $225,000 30 minutes before the jury delivered its unanimous verdict that the plaintiffs were entitled to no damages. The ACLU, which provided legal representation for the family, said it was disappointed the jury didn't return a plaintiffs' verdict, but said the case still illustrated poor training of police and a lack of accountability on use of force.

Deputy Dover Marshal Steve Payton said Eva Robinson and her son overreacted when he approached them while she was walking her dog one night in 2011. He said Matthew Robinson resisted his request for ID. He called for backup and a stun gun ultimately was used on the boy, who said the repeat charges injured him.

The case went to the jury at 1 p.m. Monda, on the sixth day of the trial. Deliberations recessed at 10:15 p.m. and resumed at 9 a.m. today. Deliberations today included a conference between Judge Brian Miller and attorneys over a note from jurors, who returned the verdict at mid-afternoon.

Here's the background on the case.

The Robinson's testified that they'd done nothing wrong and the son was stunned after he stumbled trying to get out of a police car. The ACLU represented the family in the case. Defendants said the Robinsons had been resistant and a State Police trooper who arrived backed up their account. The Robinson's said they'd been subject to continued harassment by police since the incident.

The suit sought $64,000 in medical damages for Matthew Robinson and $1 million in punitive damages. The suit originally named city, county and state law officers as well as city and county governments, but all but Payton, Deputy Sheriff Kristopher Stevens and State Trooper Stewart Condley were removed as defendants early on. Condley remained as defendant until the 8th Circuit said the trooper was allowed immunity.

That left Payton, the Dover deputy marshal, and Stevens, the Pope deputy, who did the tasering..

Patrick James of Little Rock, who represented the plaintiffs for the ACLU, said Stevens' attorney, Burt Newell, agreed to a settlement of the claim against his client 30 minutes before the verdict was returned for $225,000. That settlement was read into the record by the judge while the jury deliberated. Dates on verdict forms indicate the jury decided the case against Payton Monday and continued deliberation on Stevens today.

Stevens' was represented by the Arkansas Public Entitities Risk Management Association,  which Pope County pays for coverage. The settlement was not only as to Stevens, but meant the ACLU lawyer wouldn't attempt to appeal dismissal of other related defendants earlier in the case.

James said the juries inquiries to the judge included a note asking for a layman's definition of "preponderance of evidence." He said the judge responded by referring jurors to his instructions. That was the last question they sent. The verdict came in about 1:45 p.m., about 30 minutes too late for the county.

The ACLU issued a statement on the outcome that said the family's "nightmare" shows the need for accountability from police on excessive force and better training.:

A $225,000 settlement was reached with Sergeant Kristopher Stevens and Pope County and a federal jury has returned a verdict in favor of the other defendant Deputy Marshall Steven Payton of the Dover Police Department in the Robinsons’ lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, against law enforcement officers Payton and Stevens for unlawful detention and excessive force used against the long time Dover residents Eva Robinson and her then sixteen year old son Matthew.

The Robinsons were out walking their dog on the sidewalk outside their home in Dover, Arkansas, population approximately 1,500, on the evening of September 13, 2011 when they were stopped by Deputy Payton. The Robinsons suffered physical harm at the hands of the police and were arrested, although they had broken no laws. Sergeant Stevens and Pope County entered a settlement agreement with the Robinsons including payment of $225,000 before the jury rendered its verdict as to Deputy Payton.

“What happened to our family can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime. And that needs to change,” said Ronald Robinson, Eva’s husband and Matthew’s father. “We knew it would be difficult to hold police accountable for what they did to our family, and while we are disappointed we were not able to find full justice here today, we are pleased that at least one of the officers and departments recognized wrongdoing and we will continue to seek true accountability and professionalism in policing.”

At the time of the incident, the Robinsons turned to the Dover Marshall, Mayor, and City Council and the Pope County Sheriff and nothing was done. Despite the police admitting they didn’t suspect them of having committed any crime, officers detained, beat, and arrested Eva and Matthew. Since 2011, the mother and son have endured juvenile and criminal trials and had nowhere neutral to turn to but the court to try to seek some relief. Evidence was not kept and officers admitted to multiple policy violations as well as inconsistent reporting and testimony on the tasing of Matthew Robinson and other facts of the case. There has been no discipline,
no policy change, no training or anything that would prevent this from happening again.

The jury was not instructed that the Robinsons had the right to use self-defense in response to excessive force directed at them by officers, though the law does protect that right to use self-defense and officers are trained on it at the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy.

“Arkansans need a statewide standards office that the public can turn to for help,” said ACLU of Arkansas Legal Director Holly Dickson. “The police are supposed to protect and serve the public, but when they don’t, they need to be held accountable.”

The state of Arkansas does not have a professional standards office that ensures uniform standards or will take and address citizens’ complaints about police. Since day one, the Robinsons and ACLU of Arkansas have called for a state system for receiving complaints and acting on them.

“The brutality that Eva and Matthew endured shows us that something is wrong with the way Arkansas police are trained,” added Dickson. “We need to ensure that all police officers in this state are trained to act in a manner that respects people and their constitutional rights.”

The encounter changed everything about how the Robinsons feel about safety in their own home and community. As the federal jury chose not to hold Deputy Payton accountable, the Robinson family vows to continue working for a system that better resources and professionalizes police.

The Robinsons had no one to complain to when the police agencies responsible denied any wrongdoing. The officers who beat them are still on the streets today. A report about police wrongdoing is filed with the state standards agency is only when an officer has been fired; people are not allowed to file complaints to the state standards agency.

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