A jury in federal court Wednesday found that two Pittsburgh police officers used excessive force during an arrest on the North Side in December 2010.
The jury awarded a combined $105,000 in compensatory and punitive damages to Anthony Kenney, 40, of Perry North, who accused Officer Matthew Turko of beating him while Officer Robert Smith failed to intervene.
For Officer Turko’s part in the incident, the jury awarded Mr. Kenney $5,000 in compensatory damages and $75,000 in punitive. For Officer Smith’s inaction, Mr. Kenney was compensated with $25,000.
“The jury recognized what the truth was, recognized what really happened, and sent a strong message to the city and the police that while they are there to enforce the law, they are not above the law,” said Mr. Kenney’s attorney, Margaret Schuetz Coleman, after the verdict, which came after a half-day of deliberation.
According to Ms. Coleman, her client was in tears after the verdict was read, and felt “incredibly vindicated.”
The police said the incident occurred after Mr. Kenney committed traffic violations, spurring Officer Turko to attempt a traffic stop in an unmarked car. After stopping, Mr. Kenney’s brother bolted from the car and two officers gave chase.
Mr. Kenney claimed he continued to drive less than a block to his aunt’s house to get help for his brother, not knowing that Officer Turko and Officer Smith were still in the police car. After they pursued him, he stopped his car again, at which point he claimed the excessive force took place.
Mr. Kenney accused Officer Turko of pistol-whipping him over the head, bringing him to the ground and beating him repeatedly over the head with his fists, while Officer Robert Smith failed to intervene. This version of events was corroborated by Sahara Banks, who testified to witnessing the incident from her window.
Bryan Campbell, attorney for the officers, attempted in his closing arguments to paint Mr. Kenney and Ms. Banks as unreliable. He also emphasized the “thankless, hopeless and dangerous” job of the officers involved, noting that they are often put in “rapidly evolving situations.”
Mrs. Coleman urged the jury to use their “common sense” during deliberations, and described much of Mr. Campbell’s closing as “spin” tacked on to distract from the real issue.
The trial began Monday morning.
Albert Anderson: 412-263-1454 or firstname.lastname@example.org First Published July 16, 2014 12:00 AM