Tag, You’re It

Every so often, an image appears of police using force against a person who committed a heinous crime, the sort that harms an innocent person very badly and gets any normal person’s blood boiling.  At law blogs, we take the detached view, that it’s not left to police to administer vicious punishment on the street, no matter how much we can understand the visceral reaction to the horrific conduct of such a person.  We demand that cops keep their cool, retain their self-control, bring the perp to court where guilt, even if no one seriously doubts it, is determined and then, and only then, punishment is imposed.

And then there’s the tagger.  A tagger is a graffiti “artist.” Some think of them as vandals, while others see graffiti as street art.  Some see this as a blight while others appreciate their work, if not their choice of canvas.  Few think that the tagger falls into the same category as the guy who molests a child or beats a woman.  That’s not the case for Portland Police Officer Benjamin J. Davidson.

Via Radley Balko and Boing Boing :

Police took down Dan Halsted while he was just innocently walking home. The officer stunned Halsted five times with a Taser in the back because he thought he sprayed some graffiti.

Halsted was tackled by a Portland police officer in the Northeast Portland neighborhood of Sullivan’s Gulch four years ago.

“I was walking home and all of a sudden a flashlight came on in my eyes and I stopped, and I heard a voice say, ‘Get him!’ And I heard footsteps coming at me, so I turned and I ran.”

Police had mistaken Halsted for a tagger who hit a nearby building.

Halsted came out of the encounter the worse for wear.

Not only was he not the tagger, but even if he had been, did it really warrant this violent reaction?  Of course, his running away, having no clue why people in the night were chasing him, was surely a problem since cops hate to sweat.  Fleeing from cops, even if they sound remarkably like thugs about to mug you, tends to give rise to shooting things being pulled from their Sam Browne’s, which save the officers from working off the delicious Voodoo Donuts.

And so  Deputy City Attorney James Rice justified the police officer’s actions:

“This is a police officer doing his job, under difficult circumstances in the dark, with the tools given him,” Rice said.”The level of force was brought on by Mr. Halsted when he started to run and fought with police officers.”

Shockingly, Officer Davidson’s report of his heroic takedown was called into question.

“The arresting officer in his police report, he made up a whole other story and said that I had been running down the street with a couple other people.”

That’s the same thing the officer testified to in court when Halsted sued. In reality Halsted had been with friends at the Rose and Thistle Restaurant and was never charged with any crime.

And so, Halsted sued the City of Portland, where his claim was met with a fascinating defense:

During the trial, the city’s attorney tried to use Halsted’s classic kung fu film collection against him, saying it proved he was violent.

While it boggles the mind to think a judge allowed this argument, the jury rejected it and awarded Halsted $206,372.70. Good verdict? Here’s how it breaks down:

$6,372.70 for medical expenses.
$75,000 in non-economic damages (pain and suffering)
$125,000 in punitive damages

While some may think that $200,000 doesn’t begin to cover what Halsted went through, and that the amount will be paid by the taxpayers of Portland, with Officer Davidson, who remains on the force, not having to waste a dime of his donut money, the award has a bit of a local contingency worthy of mention.

I was surprised to learn that under Oregon law, 60 percent of punitive damages awarded in suits like this go not to the brutality victim, but to a fund for crime victims. And another 10 percent goes to . . . a fund for Oregon state courts. Really.

As punitive damages are intended as punishment, it’s not entirely unfair that they go toward a purpose other than the victim.  On the other hand, one governmental hand giving money to another hardly strikes me as much of a punishment.

The Portland City Council approved a settlement for $258,000, covering Halsted’s legal fees as well as the amount of the verdict. 

And the worst that could be said, even assuming the cops nabbed the right perp, not lied about it, not raised one of the most ridiculous arguments possible, is that he was a tagger. The good news is that the money won’t be paid to Halsted’s estate. Other than that, Portland’s a pretty nice place.  Seriously, try the maple bacon donut at Voodoo.

3 thoughts on “Tag, You’re It

  1. SHG

    Don’t be such a negative Nelly. He got his medical bills paid and enough money to pay for a year’s supply of Starbucks.

  2. Shackleford Hurtmore

    “During the trial, the city’s attorney tried to use Halsted’s classic kung fu film collection against him, saying it proved he was violent.”

    How did they even know about his film collection, let alone think it was relevant? I find that knowledge of his film collection very creepy.

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