Harassed Meter Reader Can Keep Jury's Award
CHICAGO (CN) - A federal judge said he could not find fault with a jury's award of $59,000 to a black woman arrested while reading utility meters in a 97 percent white neighborhood.
On Aug. 16, 2005, a concerned citizen in Braidwood, Ill., called the police at 8 a.m. to report that a "person of color" was taking pictures of houses.
Christina Jones, a Commonwealth Edison worker, was reading electrical meters in the neighborhood and carrying binoculars to take readings from outside the locked gate or dog-guarded property. Officers Craig Clark and Donn Kaminski conceded to Jones' account of the events that transpired but still argued that their suspicion and ultimate arrest of Jones was justified.
Jones' shirt, pants, hat and reflective vest were all emblazoned with ComEd's logo. When asked, she presented Clark with two ComEd identification cards that displayed her picture. Jones explained that her binoculars, used to take meter readings from a distance, may have been mistaken for a camera.
When Jones turned to leave and return to work, Clark stopped her, asking for her birthday.
Jones accused Clark of harassing her, took a few steps away and phoned her supervisor. Clark radioed the other officer, Kaminski, reporting that Jones was refusing to cooperate.
Kaminski, apparently irate, then arrived on the scene. He screamed at Jones, knocked the phone from her hands and placed her under arrest.
As Jones was being patted down, she said, "This is harassment. ... This is happening because I am black in Braidwood."
At the station, Kaminski reportedly mocked Jones, mimicking her voice and adding, "You wanted to make it racial out there. ... Now it's racial."
Jones was charged with obstructing a peace officer. After almost two years of litigation, Jones was acquitted. She responded with a lawsuit naming the two officers and the city of Braidwood.
In January, the 7th Circuit affirmed Jones' right to sue, saying that the arrest "reveals nothing but a blatant and embarrassing abuse of police power."
A jury soon ruled in Jones' favor. Clark and Kaminski moved for a reversal or new trial, claiming that their actions were reasonable as a matter of law.
But U.S. District Judge Suzanne Conlon rejected that argument, saying that "the jury's verdict was reasonable and supported by evidence."
She also declined to exclude a video of Jones being booked at the station, in which Kaminski can be seen angrily yelling at Jones and throwing her ComEd hat "contemptuously" onto a table. Jones appeared passive throughout the footage.
"The video was probative and relevant to damages, as it depicted an abject Jones handcuffed to a door, crying and in obvious distress," Conlon wrote.
Census figures from 2000 indicate that Braidwood is 97 percent white.