Federal jury tacks 75 cents onto its $50,000 verdict
(MCT) — A federal jury with a sense of humor found in favor of a Chicago man who alleged that two police officers wrongfully arrested him while he was filling his car tires with air, topping off his $50,000 verdict award with an extra 75 cents — the cost of his interrupted use of the gas station air pump.
Before reaching their verdict last week, jurors sent a note to the judge asking if they could order the two Chicago officers to do 100 hours of community service, the victim's lawyer said. The judge denied the request.
Pares Ratliff, then 23, was driving to a store to buy diapers for his son on a June night in 2009 when he noticed one of his tires was low and stopped at a gas station to fill it up, according to the lawsuit. While he was pumping the air, Officers Brian Murphy and James Carroll approached him and said they had a warrant for his arrest, said Ratliff's lawyer, Jared Kosoglad. When Ratliff replied that was impossible, they accused him of threatening them with the air hose and arrested him, Kosoglad said.
In their police report, the officers alleged that Ratliff clenched the hose and threatened them, saying, "If you don't let me finish filling my tire with air, I'm going to kill you," according to Kosoglad. Ratliff's version of the exchange, his lawyer said, was that he was befuddled by their claims and joked that he would go with them if they refunded the 75 cents he had just pumped into the machine.
Ratliff, who works as a night manager at a downtown Jewel-Osco, was charged with aggravated assault of a police officer, but the officers did not show up at the first court date and the charges were dropped in July 2009.
Ratliff filed a federal lawsuit alleging the officers lied about what happened and arrested him without any legal justification. According to Kosoglad, police at one point changed their claims, stating that they believed Ratliff was involved in a drug deal at the gas station.
After a four-day trial, the jury deliberated for about an hour late Thursday afternoon before awarding Ratliff $30,000 in compensatory damages against the city and an additional $20,000 in punitive damages against the two officers. They tacked the 75 cents onto the punitive damages, according to court records.
Kosoglad said city lawyers rebuffed attempts to settle the case and will now have to pay his legal bills as well. The lawyer said his fees and costs would amount to about $300,000.
A spokesman for the city's Law Department had no immediate comment.