FORT SMITH -- A federal court jury ruled Wednesday that a police officer did not use excessive force against a man under arrest and handcuffed when the man fell face first onto the concrete floor at the county jail.
A jury of six men and two women deliberated about an hour before returning with a ruling in favor of former officer Justin Deleon and the city of Fort Smith.
The jury also returned a verdict against the accusation that the city ratified unconstitutional behavior by approving the use-of-force report Deleon wrote after the incident at the jail.
The jury began deliberating about 5 p.m. after three days of testimony in the civil lawsuit filed by Clarence Leonard Scott, 44, of Fort Smith against Deleon and Fort Smith.
"'I'm going to bond out and file a lawsuit,'" Scott yelled at Deleon before he was injured at the jail, one of Fort Smith's attorneys, Doug Carson, told jurors in closing arguments. Carson said Scott saw an opportunity to sue Deleon and he took it.
The lawsuit centered on injuries Scott suffered April 18, 2014, when he fell onto the concrete floor of the Sebastian County jail's sally port, a garage.
Scott claimed that Deleon, who arrested Scott outside a downtown bar minutes before for disorderly conduct, used excessive force and deliberately slammed him face first to the floor while he was handcuffed behind his back and couldn't check his fall.
Deleon and the city contended an intoxicated and angry Scott tried to lunge at Deleon and, when Deleon tried to regain control of Scott, both men lost their balance, Deleon lost his grip on Scott and he fell to the floor, where he cut his lip, broke four teeth and possibly injured his jaw.
Scott's attorneys pointed to three videos that showed the fall, from two cameras in the sally port and one in Deleon's patrol car. They said the videos clearly showed Deleon tripping and pushing Scott to the floor.
Deleon and the city argued the video images were deceiving and that Deleon did not intentionally throw Scott to the floor.
"They tell you don't believe your lying eyes," one of Scott's attorneys, Kathryn Hudson of Little Rock, told jurors.
From different angles, the videos showed the handcuffed Scott emerging from the driver's-side back seat while Deleon, with a clipboard in one hand, stood back about 3 feet holding open the door.
Deleon testified Wednesday that he told Scott to get out of the car and that Scott got out and, in one second, stepped within inches of Deleon's face. Deleon said he took the approach as a threat.
"I was not going to allow this to happen," he said.
Deleon said Scott head-butted him, and while the video didn't show Scott getting close enough to make contact, Deleon insisted Wednesday that Scott hit him on the nose.
The video showed Deleon immediately grab Scott, turn him and push him against the trunk of the car. Scott appeared to slide down the trunk while Deleon continued to try to get hold of him. Deleon said Scott was trying to move away from him.
At the back of the car, Deleon appeared to spin Scott around and, holding him by the back of his jacket, fling him to the floor, where he fell face first.
Deleon testified the fall was not an accident and that he was trying to take Scott to the floor to gain control of him. What appeared to be Deleon flinging Scott to the floor was actually him reaching out to try to catch Scott and control the fall, he said.
Scott's attorneys argued to jurors that Deleon violated Scott's civil rights when they say he was thrown to the floor and injured and that the Police Department approved of Deleon's actions.
One of Scott's attorneys, Chris Turnage of Hot Springs, argued that jurors should send a message that everyone's civil rights are valuable
"In a civilized society, this should not happen," Turnage said.
State Desk on 01/25/2018
Print Headline: Jury rules in favor of ex-officer