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The largest jury verdict ever against the District of Columbia — $98.1 million over the failure of police detectives to protect an informant — has been sliced to $1.1 million by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The jury verdict was awarded in October 1999 to Terry Butera and the estate of her son Eric Butera, who had been killed while attempting an undercover drug buy under the supervision of District police. In late 1997, Mr. Butera, a former drug addict, provided police with a tip about the possible perpetrators of a July 1997 triple murder in a Georgetown coffeehouse. He had overheard two men discussing the murder at a crack house. Police asked him to make a drug buy at the crack house to enable them to gain a search warrant. But while attempting to enter the house, Mr. Butera was beaten to death by thieves in the courtyard outside the drug den. QUALIFIED IMMUNITY His mother sued the District of Columbia and four police officers, alleging that their actions caused Mr. Butera’s death and violated his civil rights. In the 1999 verdict, the Washington, D.C., jury awarded $36 million for violation of Mr. Butera’s constitutional rights, $34 million to Ms. Butera for loss of companionship, $27 million in punitives against the District and $570,000 in punitives against the officers. But on Jan. 9, the D.C. Circuit found that Ms. Butera had not established a constitutional right to the companionship of her son and that the District could not be liable for punitive damages. The court also determined that under the doctrine of qualified immunity, the individual police officers could not be held liable for violations of civil rights, noted Robert R. Rigsby, D.C. corporation counsel. The court, however, upheld the jury’s findings of negligence in handling the drug buy and ruled that this negligence contributed to Mr. Butera’s death. The court also upheld the punitive damages claim against the officers, leaving the total award at $1.1 million. Attorneys for the plaintiffs did not return calls for comment. Butera v. District of Columbia,No. 98CV0294 (D.D.C.).

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