Attorney asks judge to correct “goofy” jury verdict

An attorney for a former Baton Rouge resident, who claims he suffered a ruptured bladder in 2007 when a then-city police officer kicked him while handcuffed at a police substation, urged a judge Monday to correct a jury’s “goofy” verdict in the case.

An East Baton Rouge Parish jury awarded $239,000 to Brian Townsend on Sept. 21, concluding Nathan Davis used excessive force on Townsend by pepper-spraying him but not finding that Davis kicked Townsend.

The jury, which declined to award punitive damages, also determined Davis’ actions did not occur during the course and scope of his employment — meaning the city-parish is not liable for the compensatory damages awarded to Townsend for general pain and suffering, medical expenses, loss of enjoyment of life and lost wages.

City-parish attorneys had argued at trial that Davis’ actions were not something he was trained to do.

Aidan Reynolds, one of Townsend’s attorneys, argued Monday to state District Judge Todd Hernandez that the jury system is good but imperfect.

“This verdict is goofy,” Reynolds said in asking the judge to correct the verdict or order a new trial. He asked the judge to award punitive damages, which are meant to punish conduct.

Assistant Parish Attorney James Hilburn requested that Hernandez honor the jury’s verdict. Davis’ attorney, Henry Olinde Jr., said he wants the judge to slash the jury award to $5,000.

Hernandez, who presided over the September trial, took Monday’s arguments under advisement.

Reynolds noted that Davis was on duty and in uniform when he initially responded to Townsend’s Highland Creek Parkway residence at about 3 a.m. on March 4, 2007, in response to an anonymous noise complaint. Davis still was on duty when he took an intoxicated Townsend to the city-owned Highland Road police substation, he added.

Reynolds also argued that jurors are taxpayers and said, “The jury didn’t want to give away their money.”

Reynolds said Davis lied to the jury when he testified he did not kick Townsend.

Former police Officer Nicholas Batiste testified at trial that he heard a thumping noise at the substation after Davis rushed into a holding room where Townsend was handcuffed. Batiste said he heard Townsend yell that he had been kicked.

Hilburn argued that whether someone was in the course and scope of their employment is decided “on a case-by-case basis.” He said a court of appeal will decide whether the jury was correct.

Olinde argued that Davis’ testimony was credible, but Townsend’s was not.

“He has nothing to lose,” Olinde said of Davis, who is serving a federal prison term of more than six years for violating Townsend’s civil rights. He was fired from the Police Department.

“He (Davis) has every reason to lie,” countered Reynolds, pointing to the jury award.

Olinde suggested Townsend’s bladder ruptured when Davis tackled him outside Townsend’s home. He said former Police Chief Jeff LeDuff testified there was nothing improper about the tackle or Townsend’s arrest.

Davis admitted in federal court in 2009 that he pepper-sprayed Townsend’s face while the man’s hands were cuffed behind him, but he denied kicking Townsend.

Townsend’s misdemeanor charges for a noise violation and resisting arrest were eventually dismissed. He sued Davis and the city-parish.