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Angry Mayor Must Pay $35K Punitive Damages

(CN) - A Puerto Rican construction crew is entitled to $35,000 in punitive damages after an angry mayor detained them with armed policemen, the 1st Circuit ruled.

After four years of problematic construction on a new government center, Guaynabo Mayor Hector O'Neill fired the construction crew and impounded their tools. O'Neill also directed his men to drive over the crew's wet cement.

When company president Fernando Mendez-Matos went to the job site to help his son, the police "crowded all around me," he said. "I saw one of them gripping their firearm, and I felt fear."

A jury agreed with him that the construction workers' civil rights were violated, awarding them $85,000 in compensatory damages.

Also, O'Neill was found personally liable for $350,000 in punitive damages.

Judge Lipez of the Boston-based federal appeals court upheld the punitive damage award, but affirmed its reduction by the district court to $35,000.

"The mayor's conduct and his inflammatory, profane language indicate that he simply lost control of his temper and his judgment," Lipez wrote.

However, the judge added that the punitive damage reduction should stand because "the mayor was not violent and he caused no physical injury."

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