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Protester’s Excessive-Force Victory Upheld

WASHINGTON (CN) - A federal judge upheld a jury's verdict against a police officer who failed to show that the World Bank protester he beat had attacked him with a flagpole.

The case turns on different videos shot by a documentary-film student who attended the Oct. 9, 2010, protest against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington, and by the Metropolitan Police Department.

Officer Robert Robinson claimed that Shawn Westfahl struck him on the head with a flagpole that the protester had been carrying, but Westfahl said he had only lowered the flagpole when police began herding the marchers onto the sidewalk.

Westfahl said Robinson immediately grabbed the flagpole and broke it, then put Westfahl in a "bear hug" without warning and brought to the ground.

While on the ground he "'felt blows to [his] body,.... head,... back[, and] chest area,'" Westfahl testified, according to the ruling.

Westfahl claimed he didn't resist but that officers continued to pin him down while telling him to "stop resisting."

The protester wound up charged with assaulting an officer, he filed suit for violations of his civil rights.

After a federal judge advanced the civil case to trial last year, a jury awarded Westfahl $10,000 in damages on July 31, 2014, finding that Robinson used excessive force and committed assault and battery against Westfahl.

U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper refused to disturb that verdict Wednesday.

Robinson failed to sway the court that it had been improperly contradictory of the jury to hold him liable while clearing Westfahl's arresting officer, Todd Cory.

Cooper emphasized that the jury was silent as to whether Robinson falsely arrested Westfahl, instead saying he used excessive force and committed assault and battery.

The jury could at once dismiss Robinson's testimony that Westfahl hit him with a flagpole and accept Cory'sclaim he saw Westfahl hit Robinson.

Cory could have simply been mistaken, but acted on what he reasonably believed he saw, Cooper ruled.

"The jury could thus have reasonably concluded that Officer Cory's arrest of Westfahl for assaulting a police officer was lawful, while at the same time concluding that Officer Robinson's use of force was not," the opinion states.

Cooper likewise rejected D.C. and Robinson's claims that police video footage of the arrest clearly showed a wooden flagpole being swung at Robinson.

The department's video "is inconclusive at best," Cooper wrote.

It shows only briefly a dark object moving through the air before cutting away to other parts of the protest, Cooper wrote.

"It is not clear who is holding the dark object, what caused it to move through the air, or whether it struck anyone," the opinion states.

Cooper said the film student's video shows Westfahl lowering the flagpole, "but does not clearly depict any officer being struck with the flagpole," according to the ruling.

In this case, it was reasonable for the jury to find based on the evidence at the trial that Robinson did not believe Westfahl struck him on the head.

"Against this factual background as found by the jury, it would have been clear to a reasonable officer in Officer Robinson's position, not having a reasonable belief that Westfahl had struck him, that exerting force to pull Westfahl to the ground and then to arrest him would violate Westfahl's Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force," Cooper said in denying the defendants' motion.

Daniel Shultz, of Schultz Trombly, represents Westfahl. Neither he nor members of the Office of the Attorney General responded to request for comment on this story.

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