CASPER - A federal jury here has awarded a woman and her two children $200,000 in damages in a lawsuit that accused officers of using excessive force during a 2003 traffic stop.
The jury agreed Monday that police went too far when they handcuffed Jennifer English and her 14-year-old son at gunpoint, after responding to a report of a robbery. English was awarded $100,000, while her son and her daughter, who was also in the pickup truck at the time of the traffic stop, each were ordered to receive $50,000.
Three Casper police officers responding to a report of a robbery at a nearby bakery pulled over English on a Casper street. The officers made English and her son walk backward and kneel while officers handcuffed them at gunpoint. Her daughter remained in the truck.
John Robinson, a lawyer representing the Englishes, told jurors that police had a chance to "de-escalate" the situation when it became clear that the pickup English was driving was not tied to the robbery.
"You have the power to tell the Casper Police Department that this is not the way to do it," Robinson said during his closing argument Monday morning.
John Rossetti, senior assistant Wyoming attorney general, told jurors that finding against the three officers could have a negative effect on police.
"The public will lose out," Rossetti said on Monday. "Officers are not going to be able to do their jobs."
Liz Gagen, chief deputy attorney general, said any award would be paid from the state's self-insurance fund.
Casper Police Chief Tom Pagel said he was surprised by the verdict, but didn't expect to make any changes to the department's policy on traffic stops involving felony suspects. He also said he has no plans to discipline the officers involved.
Officer Marcus Maton initiated the traffic stop. He spotted English's teal-colored pickup truck shortly after police received a report that two teenage boys had used a razor blade to rob a nearby bakery. Maton was joined in the traffic stop by officers Darren Douglas and Kirk Buchholz.
Robinson, lawyer for the Englishes, argued to the jury that it was unreasonable for Maton to continue with the traffic stop even as dispatchers said they were ready to give him registration information on English's pickup. That information presumably would have indicated that police had the wrong truck, the lawyer said.
Maton testified during trial that he did not hear the report from dispatchers as he was getting out of his patrol car. He and others testified that once a felony traffic stop is initiated, it generally continues until all those in the vehicle are in custody.
Jennifer English declined to comment after the verdict, but her husband, Ron English, said the family was pleased with the outcome.
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