All-White Jury Awards $300,000 to African-American Man for Unlawful Arrest
Despite a tumultuous and violent week for America fueled by racial tension, an all-white jury was able to put aside any potential biases and fairly judge a case involving a young African-American suing a white City of Buffalo Police Officer for false arrest, malicious prosecution, and the violation of his civil rights. The jury found in favor of the plaintiff on all claims, awarding $320,002 in total.
On January 2, 2009, Justin Levy drove to his aunt’s house after being called about a possible medical emergency. Justin, now 28, never made it inside the house, however, as he found himself arrested by City of Buffalo Police Officer Raymond Harrington for allegedly obstructing governmental administration and disorderly conduct. Specifically, Officer Harrington alleged that Justin was attempting to prevent him from entering the house to assist the other officers inside, and then began shouting obscenities at Harrington and the other officers. Justin found himself subsequently jailed, strip searched, photographed, fingerprinted, and hauled into court in leg irons. Justin was released the next day, and all charges against Justin were dismissed a month later.
The jury was presented with evidence that Justin was arrested by Officer Harrington without any probable cause and with malice based on race. The jury rejected the City of Buffalo’s defense of qualified immunity and awarded damages for all three claims. They also found that Officer Harrington’s acts were “motivated by hatred, ill will, or spite, or that his conduct was wanton, reckless, or in willful disregard of the plaintiff’s rights.”
Coming at a time when racial tensions in America are high, it is important to show an integrated America that, at least in Buffalo, New York, police officers who violate civil rights do so at their peril.
Justin was represented at trial by attorneys Steven M. Cohen and William A. Lorenz, Jr.