Verdict on hold in Pittsburgh police road-rage lawsuit
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An eight-member jury went home Thursday without deciding whether the city of Pittsburgh is responsible for a 2010 road rage incident in which an off-duty detective choked a Squirrel Hill man, and will deliberate more on Monday.
The six men and two women got the case after attorneys for Jarret Fate, 32, and for the city made their closing arguments in a case that has focused on discipline in the city's police bureau.
Both sides agreed that then-Detective Bradley Walker should not have responded to a May 1, 2010, fender-bender by grabbing Mr. Fate by the throat, chasing him down when he fled, waving his gun around and bashing his 1975 Porsche 914. No one disputed the 32 citizen complaints against Mr. Walker during a 17-year career that ended with his firing and conviction on three misdemeanors following the incident.
But should the city pay?
Assistant city solicitor Mike Kennedy told the jury that Mr. Walker was driving his son to work when the incident happened on a ramp from the Parkway to Oakland. He didn't identify himself as a police officer and didn't arrest or cite Mr. Fate.
"He used the authority of a bigger, meaner bully," Mr. Kennedy said. "He didn't use the authority of a police officer."
Mr. Fate's attorney, Josh Autry, countered that the detective asked for his victim's license, registration and insurance, and used his city-approved gun to ward off onlookers. He called his home station to report the event, instead of dialing 911 like civilian witnesses did.
"He always acted in a position of authority, not as a private citizen involved in a dispute," Mr. Autry said.
The plaintiff has to prove that the city showed "deliberate indifference" to Mr. Walker's past behavior, which included accusations of choking and road rage, on-duty as well as off the clock.
"The city of Pittsburgh watched him attack person after person after person," said Mr. Autry. "They put him back on the street, and he attacked Jarret Fate."
Mr. Kennedy said the reports on which Mr. Autry relied to document those incidents proved that the city wasn't indifferent.
During his career, Mr. Walker was reprimanded, transferred, sent to counseling and ordered to undergo anger management, and hit with one-day suspensions "on several occasions" before his 2010 firing, Mr. Kennedy said.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab dismissed as defendants former police Chief Nate Harper and current Assistant Chief George Trosky, saying that a reasonable jury could not find that they caused Mr. Walker's actions. Those dismissals eliminate any punitive damages claims.
First Published March 22, 2013 12:00 am