Cops unconstitutional conduct brings $1 in damages

Published: Aug. 5, 2016 at 5:28 PM EDT
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That’s the price the City of South Bend has been ordered to pay for the unconstitutional conduct of three police officers.

A jury sitting in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne last week quietly rendered the verdict in a civil lawsuit filed by the Franklin family.

“I think in the environment that’s in America now where police officers have been gunned down in the street, I think the jury was sending a message of support for the police officers,” said Mario Sims, Pastoral Counselor to the Franklin family. “Now somewhere between supporting the police officers and the constitution, they forgot that there’s a family whose constitutional rights were violated. The message you’re sending by awarding them a nominal award of a dollar is essentially, so what? So what that sworn police officers broke into your home and punched your son and tased them.”

It was back in July of 2012 that three white officers (Aaron Knepper, Michael Stuk and Eric Mentz) entered the Franklin home on E. Bowman Street where they punched and tased an innocent teen in a case of mistaken identity.

Police responding to a domestic violence complaint were looking for Dan Franklin, but instead found his brother Deshawn Franklin.

Vivian Franklin first shared her story with News Center 16 in October of 2012 when she said, “They (the officers) need to be punished for sure, because they doing this, they’re going to kill somebody or hurt someone else.”

It was a big deal to Vivian four years ago, but a big disappointment last Friday when a jury finally weighed in. “It should shock, maybe upset, maybe cause dismay among the citizens,” said Mario Sims. “It could be your home it could be anyone's home.”

The jury agreed that the Franklin home was illegally entered by three white officers without a warrant who woke up their sleeping teenaged son by punching and tasing Deshawn Franklin, a Riley High School Senior at the time.

But when it came time to punish police and put a price on their misdeeds, the figure the jurors chose was $1.

“I think that's shocking I think that's a travesty of justice,” said Pastor Sims. “”It creates a very difficult environment when you deal with African American people you tell them to trust the system, and this family did all the right things, they did trust the system, and essentially, even though the jury found their rights were violated, the jury didn't value those rights.”

The city issued a brief written statement on the verdict saying it “appreciates the fair outcome of this legal process” and will “examine what lessons can be learned to improve processes and training.”

The police department’s internal investigation concluded that the officers did illegally enter the home and also cited them for excessive use of force yet, they weren’t suspended. All three were ordered to take remedial training.

“If this happened in Granger, there would certainly have been a much larger award than a dollar,” said Mario Sims. “But it happened on the east side of south bend to a black family. Apparently in the jury’s estimation that a black family wasn’t worth a larger award.”

The jury actually awarded $1 in damages be paid by each of the three defendants to each of the three plaintiffs for each of two unconstitutional actions, unlawful entry and unlawful seizure.

The jury cleared the officers of allegations of false arrest and battery.

While the issue of damages has been settled, another hearing will take place on a request for attorney fees.