Jury delivers verdict

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sanders, Moss and Gaines awarded $310K in damages

By Victor Inge

The Selma Times-Journal

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A Dallas County jury ruled Friday night in favor of three black plaintiffs who were beaten and maced outside a Selma nightclub by former Selma police officers, and awarded a total of $310,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.

Jurors began deliberations at 6:55 p.m. Friday, and returned at 11:30 p.m. with a verdict the plaintiffs attorneys said “sent a message.”

After four days of testimony before Circuit Judge Marvin Wiggins, the jury heard witnesses that said police overreacted to a distress call sent out by two inexperienced officers. Josh McDanal and Brian Gallion had answered an assault call in the early morning hours of Oct. 7, 2000, when they became involved in an altercation outside Club Eclipse.

Kindaka Sanders, John Moss Jr. and Kenyatta Gaines filed a lawsuit against the officers in Dallas County Circuit Court seeking damages after the party they were hosting as a fundraiser for their nonprofit organization – developed to provide mentoring and professional development – ended in a dispute between two other men.

The lawsuit claimed the officers overreacted when more than 50 police officers, state troopers and sheriffs deputies arrived with guns drawn, beat and arrested the hosts.

The incident resulted in the lawsuit against Gallion, McDanal, Michael Heath, Michael Rushing and Chuck Webber, who was the supervisor on duty.

A sixth officer, Moses Suttles, the only black officer charged, was released from the lawsuit before proceedings began.

City Attorney Jimmy Nunn asked Wiggins to dismiss the case Thursday saying the plaintiffs had failed to prove “who did what,” and to identify the officers. Heath and Rushing were released from the lawsuit on Friday before deliberations.

The civil action was filed in 2002 against the officers in their official capacity, and in their individual capacities, with the majority of fault aimed at the supervisor on duty, Chuck Webber. Webbers’ alleged mistreatment of Sanders on the night in question yielded damages totaling $250,000. The jury ruled Webber wrongfully arrested Sanders, and charged him with two counts of false imprisonment – both in his official and individual capacities.

Nunn, who represented the former officers in both their individual and official capacities, said he planned to appeal the jury’s verdict to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals.

The bulk of the damages awarded Sanders was for excessive force. The jury decided Sanders should be awarded $50,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages due to Webber violating Sanders’ civil rights.

Moss was awarded $25,000 in compensatory damages. The jury ruled McDanal unlawfully arrested him. The jury also awarded Moss $25,000 in compensatory damages for false imprisonment, ruling against McDanal in his individual and official capacities. The jury did not award punitive damages to Moss.

As to Gaines against Gallion, jurors said Gaines was unlawfully detained, awarding Gaines $2,500 in compensatory damages. The jury also ruled McDanal unlawfully detained Gaines, awarding him $5,000 in compensatory damages, and $2,500 in damages for false imprisonment.

Sanders is the son of attorney Faya Rose Toure and State Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma. Gaines is Sanders’ first cousin, and Moss is Sanders’ friend from undergraduate school at Morehouse College in Atlanta. The young professionals were hosting a partying at Club Eclipse and testified the police officers, who beat and pepper sprayed them, did so without provocation.

McDanal testified during the trial that two other men swung at him and the officers became surrounded. “I was punched in the back of the head, in the back of my vest and kicked in the back of the legs. I called double zero, meaning officer needs all possible assistance,” McDanal testified. “People were around us on the sidewalk, spilling out into the street.”

Jurors also heard testimony that Sanders was the peacemaker, diffusing the incident police were initially called to address. A man had been hit in the head with a bottle and was across the street from the club with Sanders when Gallion and McDanal arrived.