810 A.2d 388 (D.C. 2002), 99-CV-756, District of Columbia v. Jackson

Docket Nº99-CV-756, 99-CV-972.
Citation810 A.2d 388
Party NameDISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Appellants/Cross-Appellees, v. Felicia JACKSON, Appellee/Cross-Appellant.
Case DateNovember 14, 2002
CourtCourt of Appeals of Columbia District

Page 388

810 A.2d 388 (D.C. 2002)

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Appellants/Cross-Appellees,

v.

Felicia JACKSON, Appellee/Cross-Appellant.

No. 99-CV-756, 99-CV-972.

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

November 14, 2002.

Argued Sept. 24, 2002.

Page 389

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 390

James C. McKay, Jr., Senior Assistant Corporation Counsel, with whom Robert R. Rigsby, Corporation Counsel at the time, and Charles L. Reischel, Deputy Corporation Counsel, were on the brief, for appellants/cross-appellees.

Gregory L. Lattimer, Washington, DC, for appellee/cross-appellant.

Before WAGNER, Chief Judge, and FARRELL and REID, Associate Judges.

FARRELL, Associate Judge:

Terrence Hicks was shot to death by police officers who had responded to the home of his mother and found him holding her hostage at knifepoint. In subsequent wrongful death and survival actions brought against the District of Columbia and individual police officers by the estates of Hicks and his mother (who died of natural causes before trial), [1] liability turned essentially on whether the officers had used excessive force to immobilize Hicks--ultimately by killing him--after they saw him wield the knife as though about to stab his mother in the chest. The jury found in favor of Hicks's estate as to the District, acting through three police officers, on each of three counts: violation of Hicks's Fourth Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C.§ 1983, assault and battery, and negligence per se. [2] The jury awarded the plaintiff $2,149,998 in compensatory damages and $3,999,000 in punitive damages, both apportioned equally among the three officer-defendants. On a post-trial motion by the District, the trial judge remitted the compensatory damages to a total of $180,000, [3] but otherwise left the jury verdicts intact. On appeal, the District assigns error with respect to each count on liability and contests any award of punitive damages in this case. On cross-appeal, the plaintiff challenges the decision to remit the compensatory damages.

We hold that the evidence fairly permitted the jury to find, over the officers' defense of qualified privilege, that they committed assault and battery against Hicks by engaging in the use of excessive force. That being so, we find it unnecessary to resolve the District's claims challenging the separate verdicts for the § 1983 violation and negligence because the jury returned a single award of compensatory damages, and because we further hold that no award of punitive damages was legally permissible in the circumstances of this case. Finally, we sustain as a proper exercise of discretion the trial judge's decision to remit the compensatory damages.

I.

On August 16, 1994, Metropolitan Police officers were alerted to the fact that Terrence Hicks was at the home of his mother, Mary Haley, threatening to kill her with a knife unless his former girlfriend, Kimberly Johnson, was brought to see him. [4] The police went to Haley's residence in an apartment building and, standing outside the door, held repeated conversations with Hicks in which he refused to open the door and threatened to kill his mother. Hicks had told the police he

Page 391

would "shoot" his mother. When they spoke with Mrs. Haley, she stated that he did not have a gun but had a knife and was restraining her physically. Negotiations continued for more than an hour during which Hicks gave differing "time lines" as to when he would kill Mrs. Haley with the knife unless Johnson was brought to see him. To the police he sounded "angry, almost irrational." Eventually a decision was made for the Emergency Response Team (ERT) to force entry into the apartment.

The plan was for the ERT, consisting of Sergeant Jackson (in charge), Lieutenant Durham, and Officers DeSantis, Henderson, Stewart, and Powell to enter the apartment and rescue Mrs. Haley without causing loss of life if possible. At a point when Hicks had effectively "broke[n] off all negotiations," the team members forced the apartment door open and entered, each armed. According to their uniform testimony, they saw Mrs. Haley seated and appellant crouching behind her with his left arm around her neck and a knife in his right hand. They ordered him several times to drop the knife. But when Hicks rubbed the knife across Mrs. Haley's chest and then raised it as if to stab her there, DeSantis fired a shot which cut off two of her fingers, grazed her ear, and struck Hicks on the chin or left side of his face, though not fatally. DeSantis fired a second shot as Hicks "was spinning down to the ground." Officers testified that Hicks "[i]mmediately came back up" or "jumped back up," and three officers began firing their weapons at him. As Durham and DeSantis pulled Mrs. Haley all the way or partly into the adjoining kitchen, Henderson, Stewart and Powell fired a total of some twenty-one shots at Hicks from a distance of nine feet or closer. Thirteen bullets struck Hicks, approximately seven of them in the back; two shots, including one to the left back of the head, were "very likely" fatal, and others were possibly so.

At trial, the plaintiff's theory in substantial part was that Hicks had never threatened his mother with a knife--in effect that the police had fabricated the claim of an immediate threat to her safety or their own. [5] The jury rejected this theory by exonerating Officer DeSantis on all counts, implicitly finding that the two shots he fired were necessary to eliminate the threat Hicks posed to his mother's safety. Alternatively, however, the plaintiff contended that Officers Henderson, Powell, and Stewart used excessive force when they repeatedly shot and finally killed Hicks after DeSantis had effectively disabled him as a threat to anyone's safety. The jury apparently accepted this theory over the testimony of the officers that they began firing and continued to do so--for a period of no more than eight seconds--because Hicks still held the knife in his hand or was reaching toward it on the ground while trying to regain his feet. [6]

II.

The District contends, for different reasons, that the damage award cannot be sustained as to any of the three counts. It argues that as a matter of law: the officers were entitled to immunity on the excessive

Page 392

force (§ 1983) claim; the force they used was privileged with respect to the claim of assault and battery; and the plaintiff failed to prove negligence per se by presenting no expert testimony on the standard of care or deviation from it. [7] We consider first the challenge to the verdict on assault and battery because, as will appear in part II.B., infra, resolution of that challenge moots the District's other two attacks on the compensatory damage award.

A.

In Holder v. District of Columbia, 700 A.2d 738 (D.C.1997), the court stated:

Although assault and battery are technically distinct intentional torts, in cases like this one they are often pled in conjunction as a single count. An assault is an intentional and unlawful attempt or threat, either by words or acts, to do physical harm to the plaintiff. A battery is an intentional act that causes a harmful or offensive bodily contact. In most cases involving intentional shootings by police officers the technical requirements of assault and battery are satisfied and the outcome of the case turns on the defense of privilege.

A police officer has a qualified privilege to use reasonable force to effect an arrest, provided that the means employed are not in excess of those which the actor reasonably believes to be necessary. Moreover, any person, including an officer, is justified in using reasonable force to repel an actual assault, or if he reasonably believes he is in danger of bodily harm. Use of deadly force, however, is lawful only if the user actually and reasonably believes, at the time such force is used, that he or she (or a third person) is in imminent peril of death or serious bodily harm.

Id. at 741 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Without objection, the trial judge instructed the jury here in accordance with these principles. [8]

The District argues, nonetheless, that as a matter of law the actions of Officers Henderson, Powell, and Stewart--shooting at Hicks until he was dead--did not exceed the force reasonably necessary to prevent serious bodily harm to Mrs. Haley or themselves. The issue is an acutely difficult one because, as the Supreme Court has said in oft-quoted language:

The "reasonableness" of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.... The calculus of

Page 393

reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments--in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving--about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.

Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396-97, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989) (citations omitted). At the same time, however, the judge instructed the jury on these considerations, [9] and this court may not set aside the jury's determination of whether an unlawful battery was proved unless, viewing the evidence most favorably to the plaintiff, no "impartial juror [could] find that [the officers] used excessive force and failed to act with reasonable prudence when [they] shot [Hicks]." Etheredge v. District of Columbia, 635 A.2d 908, 918 (D.C.1993).

Applying these standards, we uphold the jury's verdict. The District argues that, beyond the inherent danger and need for split-second judgments in this hostage situation involving a knife, the uniform testimony of officers who were able to estimate the time was that at most six to eight seconds elapsed between the first and last shots fired by Henderson, Powell, and Stewart. [10] But the jury also heard testimony...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP
25 practice notes
  • 103 A.3d 516 (D.C. 2014), 12-CV-28, District of Columbia v. Bamidele
    • United States
    • District of Columbia Court of Appeals of Columbia District
    • November 13, 2014
    ...acts were " accompanied by conduct and a state of mind evincing malice or its equivalent." District of Columbia v. Jackson, 810 A.2d 388, 396 (D.C. 2002) (quoting Jonathan Woodner Co. v. Breeden, 665 A.2d 929, 938 (D.C. 1995)). To establish " malice or its equivalent," t......
  • 121 A.3d 59 (D.C. 2015), 13-CV-679, Destefano v. Children's Nat'l Med. Ctr.
    • United States
    • District of Columbia Court of Appeals of Columbia District
    • July 23, 2015
    ...malice or its equivalent.'" District of Columbia v. Bamidele, 103 A.3d 516, 522 (D.C. 2014) (quoting District of Columbia v. Jackson, 810 A.2d 388, 396 (D.C. 2002)). In addition, the plaintiff must show that the Page 66 through its officers, directors, or managing agents, " partic......
  • Destefano v. Children's National Medical Center, 072315 DCCA, 13-CV-679
    • United States
    • District of Columbia Court of Appeals of Columbia District
    • July 23, 2015
    ...malice or its equivalent.'" District of Columbia v. Bamidele, 103 A.3d 516, 522 (D.C. 2014) (quoting District of Columbia v. Jackson, 810 A.2d 388, 396 (D.C. 2002)). In addition, the plaintiff must show that the corporation, through its officers, directors, or managing agents, "pa......
  • 979 A.2d 64 (D.C. 2009), 07-CV-578, Wood v. Neuman
    • United States
    • District of Columbia Court of Appeals of Columbia District
    • August 27, 2009
    ...We agree with Judge Anderson's assessment; viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Wood, see District of Columbia v. Jackson, 810 A.2d 388, 396 (D.C.2002), we are satisfied that " no reasonable juror could have found by the ‘ more stringent’ proof requirement of clear and c......
  • Free signup to view additional results
25 cases
  • 103 A.3d 516 (D.C. 2014), 12-CV-28, District of Columbia v. Bamidele
    • United States
    • District of Columbia Court of Appeals of Columbia District
    • November 13, 2014
    ...acts were " accompanied by conduct and a state of mind evincing malice or its equivalent." District of Columbia v. Jackson, 810 A.2d 388, 396 (D.C. 2002) (quoting Jonathan Woodner Co. v. Breeden, 665 A.2d 929, 938 (D.C. 1995)). To establish " malice or its equivalent," t......
  • 121 A.3d 59 (D.C. 2015), 13-CV-679, Destefano v. Children's Nat'l Med. Ctr.
    • United States
    • District of Columbia Court of Appeals of Columbia District
    • July 23, 2015
    ...malice or its equivalent.'" District of Columbia v. Bamidele, 103 A.3d 516, 522 (D.C. 2014) (quoting District of Columbia v. Jackson, 810 A.2d 388, 396 (D.C. 2002)). In addition, the plaintiff must show that the Page 66 through its officers, directors, or managing agents, " partic......
  • Destefano v. Children's National Medical Center, 072315 DCCA, 13-CV-679
    • United States
    • District of Columbia Court of Appeals of Columbia District
    • July 23, 2015
    ...malice or its equivalent.'" District of Columbia v. Bamidele, 103 A.3d 516, 522 (D.C. 2014) (quoting District of Columbia v. Jackson, 810 A.2d 388, 396 (D.C. 2002)). In addition, the plaintiff must show that the corporation, through its officers, directors, or managing agents, "pa......
  • 979 A.2d 64 (D.C. 2009), 07-CV-578, Wood v. Neuman
    • United States
    • District of Columbia Court of Appeals of Columbia District
    • August 27, 2009
    ...We agree with Judge Anderson's assessment; viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Wood, see District of Columbia v. Jackson, 810 A.2d 388, 396 (D.C.2002), we are satisfied that " no reasonable juror could have found by the ‘ more stringent’ proof requirement of clear and c......
  • Free signup to view additional results