DeShawn’s parents Vivian and Dan Franklin were plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the city of South Bend and the officers. The jury awarded $1 in damages
One night in July 21012, 18-year-old DeShawn Franklin was woken from sleep by three white police officers who barged into his family’s home in the middle of the night, shook him awake and proceeded to punch him in the face and taser the sleeping high school senior. The officers arrested him, then proceded to load him into a squad car, in view of the neighbors.
They had mistaken Franklin for his brother, Dan, a domestic violence suspect.Four years later, a federal jury in Fort Wayne agreed, determining that the officers were liable for unlawful entry and unlawful seizure.
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The jury awarded his family a mere $1 in damages, after they found that the officers had violated the Franklin family’s civil rights when they burst into their home without a warrant and seized an innocent man. Even South Bend’s mayor, But Buttigieg, and the police department acknowledge that the officers that July night in 2012 used excessive force and violated the civil rights of Franklin and his parents by entering the house without permission.
“I think that’s shocking I think that’s a travesty of justice,” Mario Sims, the Pastoral Counselor to the FRanklin family said.
“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,” he said.
On July 7th, 2012, three white police officers, Aaron Knepper, Michael Stuk and Eric Mentz, pounded on the door of the Franklin family’s east South Bend home at 4.am.
Vivian Franklin answered the door and, even without a warrant, the officers burst into the home and began searching for a suspect they thought was inside. South Bend police Capt. Phil Trent said after the incident that the suspect’s scent had led them to the Franklin’s home.
They found DeShawn Franklin face down and fast asleep in his bedroom. He was a senior in high school at the time and was slim in stature and had dreadlocks, which matched the description of who they were looking for.
“I didn’t even know what was going on. I was just asleep,” DeShawn Franklin, now 22-years-old and an employee at the University of Notre Dame, said.
“It was just all a big shock and disturbance,” he said.
With their weapons drawn, the three officers’ punched Franklin several times, three of those times were in the face. They Tasered him and fired their stun gun on the bewildered teen and, even after realizing they’d nabbed the wrong person, handcuffed him and threw him in a police cruiser for resisting arrest.
Vivian Franklin, who spoke out about the incident in October 2012 in an interview , said the officers’ careless behavior should be “punished…because they doing this, they’re going to kill somebody or hurt someone else.”
The Franklin family filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city of South Bend, the mayor of the city at the time, Peter Buttigieg, South Bend interim police chief Charles Hurley and the three officers, saying their rights were violated when they broke into the home without a warrant and physically attacked an innocent man.A lawyer for the Franklin family, Richard Bryant, said the measly amount is a default “nominal fee” when the jury isn’t presented with sufficient evidence to determine what the damages cost a plaintiff.
In civil rights suits, damages are usually determined by the cost of medical bills or property damages, neither of which were presented as evidence to the jury in Franklin’s case.
The city released a statement following the ruling, calling it a “a fair outcome of this legal process,” a statement read. “We will examine what lessons can be learned from this case as we continually improve processes and training.”
Pastor Mario Sims – “The message you’re sending by awarding them a nominal award of a dollar is essentially, so what? “
“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.
Legal experts explaining how the incredible award could be possible, could it be that the family attorneys failed him?
Some are of the opinion that it is difficult to assign a monetary value to intangible suffering.
Jurors also were instructed at the close of testimony that they could award as little as $1 if they did not see evidence of more damages.
The explanation has not stopped the verdict coming as a shock to some legal minds. Richard Waples, an experienced civil rights lawyer in Indiana, was shocked when I told him about the Franklins’ victorious case and the jury’s award.
“Really?” he said. “That just doesn’t seem right.” Waples explained that attorneys often request that the judge not provide that instruction to jurors because it can put a dollar figure in their minds.
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Ulmer, the Franklins’ attorney, didn’t make such a request. The jurors, who were polled after reaching a verdict and judgment, indicated to U.S. District Judge Theresa Springmann that they heard no evidence to justify compensatory damages.
Ulmer said he is prepared to pay the $1,500 in trial expenses, either from attorney fees he hopes to recoup or from his own pocket. Federal court rules permit attorneys who represent clients pro bono and prove their case in court to ask the judge to grant payment from the losing party. In court records, Ulmer stated that attorney fees incurred by the Franklins totaled $168,430.
But for DeShawn Franklin, his meager award is another blow, another reason to mistrust the police and the system.
“I have no value on the face of Earth, just as a person,” DeShawn said. “We all bleed the same, so how could you value my family’s constitutional rights at a dollar but maybe elsewhere it could be $5, $10, $100,000? It just shows no respect for us.”
But Buttigieg, South Bend’s mayor, wants DeShawn and his family, stung by the encounter with city police officers, to know that he and the city “believed that their rights were worth more than a dollar.”
“This case has touched a nerve related to much bigger issues,” Buttigieg said. “I regard every resident of our city as equally worthy of respect and concern. I want DeShawn to feel and know that this is a city that wants him to thrive, and that we take his rights and every one’s rights very seriously.”
The city’s attorney, Pater Agostino – “It can feel like sometimes there is no justice…. and I don’t want him to lose faith in the system because he had one bad experience.”
Still, even the city’s attorney, Agostino, said he can understand the family’s frustration.
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“On an emotional, human level, putting the law aside, I can relate to what they’re feeling,” Agostino said. “It can feel like sometimes there is no justice. All I can say is that we respect them for stepping forward and bringing the issue out. I think DeShawn is an awesome young person, and I don’t want him to lose faith in the system because he had one bad experience.”
Records show that officers Knepper, Stuk and Mentz were the target of another civil rights lawsuit in 2013, filed by a learning disabled 7-Eleven clerk who said the cops slashed his tires and challenged him to swallow a tablespoon of cinnamon so they could videotape the stunt, known as the “cinnamon challenge.”
The clerk, Jonathan Ferguson, vomited for hours after consuming the cinnamon.
Officer Knepper was the target of yet another civil rights lawsuit filed last year by Tom Stevens,who was hospitalized with a serious head injury following a violent arrest when cops say he failed to pull over for not having his headlights on, the South Bend Tribune reported.