Date of Verdict: April 22.
Court and Case No.: C.P. Philadelphia No. 110201939.
Judge: Annette M. Rizzo.
Type of Action: Assault and battery, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, negligence.
Injuries: Pain and suffering.
Plaintiffs Counsel: Michael C. Schwartz and Jonathan J. James, James, Schwartz & Associates, Philadelphia.
Defense Counsel: Joe H. Tucker Jr. and Douglas K. Jenkins, Tucker Law Group, Philadelphia.
Plaintiffs Expert: Michael Berkovitz, accident reconstruction, Bala Cynwyd, Pa.
Defense Experts: N/A.
Comment: A Philadelphia jury has awarded $35,000 to a man claiming he was assaulted by Temple University police officers and maliciously prosecuted for attempted murder and other charges of which he was eventually acquitted.
James Brawner, now 39, was a Temple student and full-time worker in March 2009, when the police officers approached him with guns drawn as he urinated on a plot of dirt surrounding a tree at 16th and Norris streets in North Philadelphia, he claimed.
According to Brawner’s pretrial settlement memorandum, officer Brian Pettet first approached Brawner and ordered him to stand up against a wall. Immediately after, officers Ryan Saunders and James Wilson also approached him with guns drawn. All three officers were in plain clothes, the settlement memorandum said.
After a line of inquiry, in which Saunders allegedly threatened Brawner with bodily harm, the officers indicated Brawner would be charged with public urination. The officers and Temple contested that Brawner cursed at officers and threatened them.
According to the plaintiff’s memo, the officers let him go after about 20 minutes, but, as Brawner tried to pull out of his parking space, Saunders stepped in front of his vehicle and demanded to see his license and registration. Brawner objected because the officers had already looked at his information, the memo said, and Wilson then signaled for him to pull off.
Then, according to the Brawner’s memo, Saunders again stepped in front of the car, challenging Brawner to hit him. As Brawner drove off, he claimed in the court papers, Saunders jammed one of his car doors into Brawner’s car, damaging it.
It was out of fear for his own safety, the plaintiff claimed, that he continued driving until Temple police officers pulled him over just a block away from his previous encounter with the officers.
He claimed the officers beat his hands with their batons, pulled him out of the car, struck his torso multiple times, cuffed him and loaded him into a police wagon, where he alleged Saunders struck him again.
Brawner was eventually charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault, possessing an instrument of crime and a host of other charges. A Philadelphia judge dismissed the attempted murder charge for lack of evidence, Brawner noted in his memo.
Of the eight remaining charges Brawner was facing, Brawner’s attorney Jonathan J. James said, five were dropped immediately before the criminal jury trial in 2010 and, following the trial, Brawner was found not guilty on all charges.
Following the criminal proceedings, Brawner sued officers Pettet, Wilson and Saunders for assault and battery, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution. He sued Temple for negligent hiring, training and supervision.
Based on a copy of the verdict slip provided by Brawner’s attorney, only Saunders was found liable in the case of Brawner v. Temple University. James said the jury deliberated for more than three hours after a six-day trial in awarding Brawner the $35,000.
In defense papers, Temple and the officers denied liability and claimed the officers acted lawfully at all times. They responded that Brawner’s theories of false imprisonment and malicious prosecution failed as a matter of law.
At trial, according to attorney Douglas K. Jenkins, the defense theory was the officers had probable cause and acted reasonably at all times. Jenkins said Brawner was confrontational and, though he claimed police officers beat him, the plaintiff had no medical records that indicate a beating to the extent he alleged.
Jenkins noted Temple had given the defense "much more in authority than the jury came back with as a verdict" to settle the case outside of court, although no offers were made.
Brawner, according to the plaintiff’s settlement memo, demanded $300,000 to settle the claim.
James said the plaintiffs advanced the theory that the officers acted unreasonably and presented evidence that it was Saunders who caused the vehicles to collide by jamming his car door into Brawner’s, with the help of accident reconstruction expert Michael Berkovitz.
Jenkins said the defense contested that it was Brawner who caused the collision.
— Ben Present, of the Law Weekly •`