LOS ANGELES (CN) – A jury on Friday returned a verdict of $1.7 million against the Los Angeles Police Department for hitting and knocking down a TV camerawoman. A public radio reporter who was also struck and knocked down by policemen also won an award, after a tumultous rally 3 years ago where police officers charged through reporters.
In returning a verdict late Friday, the jury found that the police used unreasonable force against FOX TV camerawoman Patricia Ballaz and awarded $532,000 for lost earnings and medical expenses, non-economic damages of $100,000, future non-economic damages of $100,000, and $1 million for lost future earnings and medical expenses.
“Did Patricia Ballaz reasonably believe that if she exercised her First Amendment rights, defendant City of Los Angeles police personnel would commit violence against her?” asked the verdict form.
“No,” answered the 12 jurors unanimously.
But they split 9 in favor, 3 against, in finding that policemen used unreasonable force in knocking Ballaz’s TV camera from her shoulder and knocking her down to the ground.
Jurors also awarded KPCC radio reporter Patricia Nazario $37,000 for past economic loss plus $2,000 for non-economic damages, and nothing for future economic loss. Defense lawyer Jessica Brown had noted to the jurors that Nazario wore high heels for her testimony, in challenging her claim of ongoing ankle injury.
Nazario, in a black suit and black high heels, attended the verdict with her mother and reacted with dismay when the jurors found that Nazario was herself negligent. Nazario was knocked into a full circle and down onto the ground by a policemen swinging a baton.
The jurors also found contributory negligence by the other two reporters.
In addition, they refused to find that the police had used unreasonable force against FOX TV reporter Christina Gonzalez, splitting 6-6 on that question. She receive no damages.
Gonzalez was harshly jabbed by a police baton and roughly shoved by individual policemen who treated her, as one witness put it, “like a rag doll.” Lawyers for the city argued that Gonzalez, who was holding a microphone at the time she was hit was a threat to the policeman’s weapon, which was why he had to knock her down.
In closing arguments, Greene told jurors, “There was a war against media that day.” But Jessica Brown, defending the City of Los Angeles, argued that TV reporters had placed themselves in harm’s way and thought they had “special privileges.”
Witnesses during the trial included former Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton and Deputy Chief Michael Hillman who testified on behalf of the reporters, criticizing the police charge that sent people flying and down onto the ground during a May Day 2007 rally against immigration policy.
Bratton said the routing of the reporters was against the city’s police and was the single most embarrassing incident in his 37-year career as a policeman.
After the jury returned its verdict, Ballaz made no comment. Nazario and Gonzalez both left quickly. In the hallway, one of the jurors explained to the plaintiff lawyers that there was insufficient evidence of neck injury to Gonzalez, because of previous injuries.
But jurors refused to comment to a reporter about the trial. No major newspapers or television stations covered the trial.
After the verdict, Browne Greene, a famous Los Angeles trial lawer, said, “This was a police riot, and we got to condemn that thing — not in this society.”
In sending the jurors off for the Fourth of July weekend, Judge William Highberger told them, “Thomas Jefferson, one of our founding fathers, venerated the importance of jury duty. You have served the community and the public.”