Hartford has had a long history of being a pretty nasty city when it comes to cops beating on people. Whether that makes it worse, or different, than a lot of other places can be debated, but what matters is that it’s less than user-friendly for many. Bloomfield High School football coach Tylon Outlaw felt something, but it was not the love.
The coach had gone to a Hartford restaurant to meet with friends regarding a proposed business venture. Upon leaving, he spoke with several other friends he recognized in a taxi cab.
An undercover Hartford detective driving an unmarked car yelled at the coach, “Hey motherfucker.”
Perceiving this to be an informal urban pleasantry, he responded in kind.
That was in 2004, when he was a college football player and “urban pleasantries” were more freely exchanged. It turned out to be less pleasant than expected.
The plain clothes detective, Troy Gordon, did not identify himself as a police officer. He did, however, park and ultimately charge at the coach, kicking him in the stomach. As the coach was able to block a second kick with his hands, he was struck in the head from behind with a police baton by another officer.
He fell to the ground, yelling for help. On his back he curled into a fetal position as he was repeatedly struck in the head, arms and legs with a baton and kicked in the back and stomach. As he tried to cover his face, officer Michael Allen hit him in the right knee with the baton, breaking his kneecap.
A basic beatdown, though a broken kneecap is the sort of injury that lasts a lifetime and ends a football career. After some additional Hartford unpleasantness, and the obligatory arrest for being beaten by mistake after it was realized he wasn’t whoever they thought he was when first greeted, came the civil action for the violation of his civil rights and compensatory damages.
Outlaw received a jury verdict of $454,197. The adequacy of the verdict for a life of pain, surgeries, and a life dictated not by his choice and effort, but by what was left after the cops were done wailing on him, seems dubious, but that was the least of the problems. Hartford decided it wasn’t going to pay.
U.S. Magistrate Judge William Garfinkel wrote the following opinion in a Nov. 13, 2017 ruling in a related case in which the city stiffed both the brutality victims and the cops. Garfinkel’s entire opinion should be circulated widely.*
The City’s position, in addition to being unsupported by precedent, is bewildering. How can Hartford maintain a qualified police force when it is willing to expose its officers to personal liability for compensatory damages for civil rights judgments? What capable officer, in his or her right mind, would want to work for such a city? And what message does this send to the community, the residents of Hartford, when their governing officials promote a position that, in all likelihood, will leave them without full compensation for injuries in the event that they are the victims of a civil rights violation?
One of the many dirty little secrets of the law is that winning a verdict and getting the verdict paid are very different matters. If the city wanted to indemnify its cop, then it would elect to pay the verdict. And if not, the onus shifted back to the victim of police brutality to collect the money.
Often, the argument is that the solution to police violence is to make the cop personally liable for his conduct, shift the incentive system from the municipality, or more accurately its taxpayers, to the bad dude who did the dirty. Make him suffer.
The problem is that the cop may be judgment proof. If the cop has no wealth or assets, there is no fund from which to collect a judgment. You can’t get blood from a rock. For Outlaw, this means that he’s got himself a sizable judgment, but it’s nothing but a piece of paper unless he can collect on it. And that piece of paper doesn’t pay the bills.
The coach still has a lien on his house for hospital bills cited in his federal jury award, which was affirmed in March of this year by the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Not only that, the city has filed an action to bill him about $10,000 for court costs.
What basis exists for the city to sue for court costs is unclear. Why Hartford has chosen not to indemnify the judgment is similarly unclear. If there is an actual reason behind this, it’s never quite said, leaving a huge gape in the narrative that isn’t filled by the tangential swipes at Hartford and cops.
But what matters is that Hartford won’t pay the judgment, even if there is absolutely no explanation why.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, briefed on the various judicial admonitions against the city and the ongoing indemnification brouhaha in the Outlaw civil rights award, offered the following statement late Tuesday: “Our police officers do extraordinarily important work, often in extraordinarily difficult and dangerous situations, and they deserve to know that our city stands behind them. In cases of alleged police misconduct, we defend our officers vigorously, pay for the officers’ legal defense, and if there’s a judgment against an officer, our policy is to indemnify the officer against any judgment in all but the most egregious circumstances. We have an obligation to review each case individually, and we have to consider whether it would be appropriate for taxpayers to bear the cost in a situation that truly involved egregious, willful, and wanton misconduct. As there are still post-trial motions pending in the Outlaw case, I can’t comment on that case specifically.”
If you’re the cop in Hartford, this is their way of telling you that if you get nailed for your beatdown, you’re on your own. The irony in this platitudinous rationalization is that the city says it will indemnify for all “but the most egregious circumstances,” which is sufficiently vague and meaningless as to provide no clue what they mean. But if it’s the “most egregious circumstances,” then the victim of a Hartford cop’s beating has suffered those circumstances. And he’s the guy who has nowhere to turn to have his judgment paid.
“Most cities want to encourage out-of-town people to patronize local business,” said one of the coach’s lawyers, Raymond Rigat. “Here, the message seems to be: ‘Welcome to Hartford, catch an old fashioned police beat-down, go to the hospital — it’s your problem not ours.’ This is another reason it is so puzzling to me why Hartford refuses to make this right.”
Make the cop pay sounds like a great shift in the incentive system to induce police to consider the ruinous life consequences for their misconduct, and no doubt the cop involves regrets, for his own sake, the violence used on Coach Tylon Outlaw. But for Outlaw, he just wants his judgment paid, and now he has to fight Hartford for it.
*Curiously, the opinion that “should be widely circulated” isn’t linked in the article.