Excessive force award against Baton Rouge police and former officer now final _lowres

Brian Townsend

The state’s top court has let stand a jury’s award of $239,000 to a former Baton Rouge resident who claimed a city police officer’s use of excessive force in 2007 caused him to suffer a ruptured bladder.

The Louisiana Supreme Court refused Friday to review a lower court ruling that said 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.

“We really believe justice has finally been served,” Aidan Reynolds, one of Townsend’s attorneys, said Monday. “Brian stood up for his civil rights.”

The incident took place outside Townsend’s Highland Creek Parkway home in the early-morning hours of March 4, 2007, while police were responding to an anonymous complaint about loud music.

An East Baton Rouge Parish jury determined in 2012 that Davis’ actions did not occur during the course and scope of his job with the Police Department, but state District Judge Todd Hernandez — who presided over the trial of Townsend’s lawsuit against Davis and the city-parish — overturned that finding in 2013.

A three-judge panel of the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal agreed with Hernandez in April, prompting the city-parish to take the case to the state Supreme Court.

Parish Attorney Lea Anne Batson declined comment Monday.

The city-parish, which did not represent Davis, argued the city-parish should not be held financially responsible for his actions because the ex-officer acted outside of his training.

The 1st Circuit panel pointed out that Davis was responding to a complaint in his official capacity as a police officer during working hours.

“We’ve reached out to friends on the (Metro) Council and the Parish Attorney’s Office,” Reynolds said of efforts to begin the process of collecting the jury award.

The appellate court panel did agree with the jury that Davis used excessive force in tackling Townsend so hard that Townsend defecated on himself. The appeals court judges said 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.

“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, who was not armed, testified he was intoxicated. His misdemeanor charges for a noise violation and resisting arrest were dismissed.

Davis was fired and later convicted in Baton Rouge federal court of violating Townsend’s civil rights. He was sentenced to more than six years in prison but is no longer behind bars.

Reynolds said Davis’ treatment of Townsend was by no means an indictment of the entire police force.

“We’ve got a lot of great cops out there,” he said.

Davis and the city-parish are jointly liable for the damages the jury awarded to Townsend, Reynolds said.