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Federal Judge Rejects Requests to Throw Out Verdict Against Lakewood Police Officers Over Jurors’ Alleged Ulterior Motives

Posted Wednesday, January 24, 2018 by Pivotal Law Group

U.S. Federal District Judge Barbara Rothstein recently upheld a $15.1 million jury verdict against the city of Lakewood and three Lakewood police officers over the 2013 killing of an unarmed man. In her 69-page order, Judge Rothstein repeatedly criticized the attorneys representing Lakewood and the officers for suggesting the jury’s verdict was improperly motivated by fear of racial backlash.

Lakewood police officers fatally shot Leonard Thomas in 2013 during a domestic dispute. In upholding the jury’s verdict, Judge Rothstein found the evidence supported the jury’s conclusion that the Lakewood officers acted outrageously and with malice. The judge observed that every step the officers took during the incident made it more likely that Thomas would die. Among other things, Judge Rothstein noted the evidence showed the police overreacted to a minor domestic squabble by sending a full SWAT team and hostage negotiator. Despite the hostage negotiator’s apparent resolution of the dispute, the officers fatally shot Thomas.

Lakewood’s attorneys asked Judge Rothstein to throw out the jury’s verdict. They argued that the jury was improperly influenced by community perceptions about police officers’ excessive use of force against African Americans. Lakewood’s attorney argued the jury only found in Thomas’ favor because they were afraid to tell people in their communities that they exonerated white police officers who shot an unarmed African American man.

Judge Rothstein rejected the claim the jury’s verdict was improper, finding there was no evidence the jury found Lakewood and the officers liable merely to protect the jurors’ individual reputations. The judge noted that argument was particularly unpersuasive because the attorneys representing Lakewood and the officers had successfully argued against showing prospective jurors a video about unconscious bias.

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