Ohio Court Upholds $50M Verdict In Police Brutality Case

By Cara Salvatore | August 7, 2020, 10:18 PM EDT

An Ohio appeals court on Thursday upheld a $50 million jury verdict in favor of a man who said he was detained without probable cause, beaten and kept in a storage closet for four days by East Cleveland police.

The verdict had come in Arnold Black's second jury trial against East Cleveland over its police department's treatment of him in 2012 after he was pulled over because his truck allegedly looked like a truck that belonged to a drug dealer.

After Black was pulled over, police allegedly beat him and pulled the side panels off of his truck looking for drugs. They found nothing, Black said. Yet Black was arrested and taken to jail, where he was put in a room with no bed or toilet. He was kept there for four days. When he was finally released, his head was badly swollen, according to his former fiancee.

In Thursday's multipart ruling, the appeals court in Cuyahoga County kept the jury's eight-figure award to Black.

Among other things, the appellate panel found that the trial court didn't abuse its discretion in various decisions made during the August 2019 trial, including a decision to bar the city from presenting evidence that hadn't been handed over when requested in discovery in 2014.

That included supposed "rebuttal" evidence, like a police report in which one officer said that small amounts of drugs were in fact found in Black's car before he was arrested.

"Appellants never responded or produced a single piece of evidence. Indeed, they reported that all of these items were 'gone' or destroyed," the appeals court said.

"Despite appellants' characterization of these items as 'rebuttal evidence,' they are not rebuttal evidence; they are materials that should have been produced years ago when they were requested during the course of pretrial litigation. Exclusion of these items was warranted by appellants' utter failure to comply with Black's discovery requests," the appeals court said.

The court also said there were no issues with the jury instructions given, including the defense's contention that there should have been a jury instruction on qualified immunity, the controversial legal doctrine that often shields police from lawsuits arising from their work.

Black's experience was covered in season three of the popular podcast "Serial" as part of its season-long look at systemic failures in East Cleveland's criminal justice system.

The $50 million verdict resulted from a redo trial.

In the first trial in 2016, the jury awarded Black $22 million. But a reviewing court later found that the judge improperly held the trial while an emergency appeal in the case was pending in a higher court.

In the 2019 trial, a different jury awarded more than double that, awarding $20 million in compensatory damages plus $15 million in punitive damages against both police officer Randy Hicks and former police chief Ralph Spotts.

A lawyer for Black, Robert DiCello, said Friday, "This is the kind of case I've waited my whole career to have. It's a case that matters to the most important social conversation we're having: How do the police treat us, and what rights do we have?"

East Cleveland's director of law, Willa Hemmons, did not provide a comment, but forwarded documents including the city's December 2019 appeal brief.

In the brief, East Cleveland argued that the city and its police chief were not liable for the acts of Hicks, who allegedly ordered the traffic stop of Black and then showed up and beat Black. The city argued that Hicks was not on duty on the night in question and acted independently.

Black is represented by Robert DiCello, Mark DiCello and Justin Hawal of DiCello Levitt Gutzler LLC.

East Cleveland is represented by Willa Hemmons.

The case is Black v. Hicks et al., case number 108958, in the Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth Appellate District, County of Cuyahoga.

--Editing by Bruce Goldman.

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