CHARLESTON – A Kanawha County man who says three sheriff’s deputies wrongly used excessive force on him was awarded $2 damages in U.S. District Court.
Still, one county commissioner says the county will fight the keep from paying the award.
During a three-day trial last month, a jury found in favor of Keith A. Jordan of Hernshaw, ruling that one of the officers failed to properly “knock and announce” before entering his home and that another officer used objectively unreasonable force in arresting him.
In the suit filed last year, Jordan lists Deputies T.R. Anderson, W.C. Moyer and J.J. Haynes as well as the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department and the Kanawha County Commission as defendants.
In the suit, Jordan says that on May 10, 2003, he was in his Hernshaw home sleeping just after midnight. The officers were in the neighborhood investigating a domestic violence complaint and “decided that they would also serve Mr. Jordan with a five-year-old warrant for destruction of property,” according to the original complaint.
Moyer and Haynes entered through the front door then let Anderson in through the back door. Then, they started yelling for Jordan, who was awakened by the noise.
“He jumped up and ran into the living room to find a house full of policemen, who announced he was going to jail,” the complaint states. “Confused, half asleep and clad only in his underwear, Mr. Jordan stated that he had not done anything wrong and that he had to go to work the next morning. He asked the officers to leave.”
The officers responded by dousing Jordan with pepper spray and “knocking him out cold with several blows to the head with a nightstick,” according to the complaint.
In Kanawha County Magistrate Court, Jordan was charged with obstruction of justice, resisting arrest, trespassing and destruction of property. He says he didn’t resistor assault the officers and that the forced used was excessive.
After appearing in magistrate court, Jordan was taken to St. Francis Hospital, where he was diagnosed with a concussion with loss of consciousness and contusions to the head. He later was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome, which resulted in vertigo, dizziness, headaches and loss of balance.
Jordan worked as a high rigger, which means he walked and worked on steel beams hundreds of feet in the air. Because of his medical problems, Jordan said he had to quit his job and lost substantial amounts of income.
He said the deputies violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. He also claims the Sheriff’s Department and the County Commission failed to properly hire, train, supervise and control its deputies.
Jordan said he suffered physical and emotional trauma, embarrassment, mental anguish and distress. He also incurred more than $3,000 in medical expenses and a loss of income and earning capacity. In the complaint, he said he had lost nearly $60,000 in wages.
When the jury heard the case Sept. 12-14 in U.S. District Court, they found that Haynes failed to properly “knock and announce” before entering Jordan’s home and that Moyer used objectively unreasonable force in arresting Jordan.
Still, the jury awarded Jordan only $1 for each of those claims. They awarded him nothing for medical expenses, lost past wages and no punitive damages.
We were pleased with the verdict,” said Duane Ruggier II of Charleston law firm Pullin, Fowler & Flanagan, who represented the deputies. “We had several claims dismissed before going to the jury. Then, we won on seven of the nine charges sent to the jury, and a dollar each was awarded on each of those claims.”
County Commission President Kent Carper wasn’t present at the trial, but said he has a good idea of what the jury was thinking when offering just $2 to Jordan.
“I know without knowing,” said Carper, also an attorney. “If I had to guess, they listened to the evidence and facts. They decided that those deputies did something wrong, but that there were no damages.”
Carper compared it to a car wreck lawsuit.
“Let’s say someone is hurt in a car wreck,” he said. “It’s like the jury saying, ‘Yes, there is no question you are at fault.’ They’re saying, ‘We had to give you something. There’s liability. But give me a break, there’s nothing wrong with you.’”
Despite such a small award, Carper still wants to the county to fight paying it.
“I don’t want it to be charged against our insurance,” he said. “Plus, I support the deputies. As a lawyer, I believe in everyone’s right to have their day in court. But as a commissioner, I don’t think this particular case should have been brought to court.
“This particular case, to me, seems frivolous. Apparently, that’s what the jury thought, too.”
Carper has financial reasons for not wanting to pay the award as well.
“Any case, even if there is a nominal payout, it still is defense cost and it’s a chargeable,” he said. “It goes against our insurance policy.”