The Louisiana Supreme Court will be the next stop for an alleged police brutality case in which a former Baton Rouge resident suffered a ruptured bladder and was awarded $239,000, the East Baton Rouge Parish Attorney’s Office said Monday.
A state appeals court ruled last week that now-former Baton Rouge police officer Nathan Davis was acting in the course and scope of his employment when he forcefully tackled and pepper-sprayed Brian Townsend outside Townsend’s Highland Creek Parkway home in the predawn hours of March 4, 2007, while responding to an anonymous complaint about loud music.
The city-parish, which does not represent Davis, argued at the 2012 jury trial of Townsend’s lawsuit that Davis acted outside of his training and that the city-parish should not be held financially responsible for his actions.
An East Baton Rouge Parish jury determined Davis’ actions did not occur during the course and scope of his job with the Police Department, but state District Judge Todd Hernandez overturned that finding in 2013. A three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal agreed last week with Hernandez, who presided over the trial.
“We are very pleased with the ruling. It certainly validates that Brian was seriously injured, and it happened because a police officer acted unreasonably,” Aidan Reynolds, one of Townsend’s attorneys, said Monday.
The Parish Attorney’s Office said the Supreme Court will be asked to review the appeals court ruling.
The appellate court said Davis was responding to a complaint in his official capacity as a police officer during working hours.
“Reasonable and fair-minded jurors could not have reached a contrary verdict,” Circuit Judge Page McClendon wrote for the panel that included fellow Circuit Judges Vanessa Whipple and Toni Higginbotham.
The panel, however, said the jury did not err in finding Davis used excessive force in tackling Townsend so hard that Townsend defecated on himself.
“The record shows that the nature of the offense was nothing more serious than a noise complaint, a citation-only offense, with no requirement that Townsend be taken into custody,” McClendon stated. “While Townsend may have had an ‘attitude’ and failed to comply with the officers’ requests, there was no evidence ... to suggest a heightened sense of caution in the reason, manner, and execution of the arrest.”
Townsend was neither armed nor an escape risk, she added.
Townsend claimed his bladder ruptured when Davis kicked him while Townsend was handcuffed at a police substation on Highland Road.
The 1st Circuit panel said the jury’s conclusion that Davis did not kick Townsend was reasonable, as was its finding that Townsend’s bladder ruptured when he was tackled by Davis.
The panel also sided with the jury on its decision not to award Townsend punitive damages, which are meant as punishment or deterrence.
“We cannot say that the evidence established that Davis’ conduct was motivated by evil motive or intent or constituted reckless or callous indifference,” McClendon said.
Townsend testified he was intoxicated at the time of the incident. His misdemeanor charges for a noise violation and resisting arrest were dismissed.
Davis, who was fired, was convicted in Baton Rouge federal court of violating Townsend’s civil rights and was sentenced to more than six years in prison. His attorney, Henry Olinde Jr., said Monday that Davis is no longer behind bars.