Court cuts police excessive force verdict 75% to $50,000

By Ed White
Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — A federal appeals court last Friday reduced a $200,000 verdict to no more than $50,000 in an excessive force case against a Detroit-area police officer.

The court said the awarding of punitive damages was puzzling: The same jury gave just $1 to Nikos Kidis in compensatory damages for his encounter with Warren Officer John Moran.

Kidis sued Moran for what happened on a day of heavy drinking at a Labor Day festival.

Kidis hit another vehicle, causing a minor accident, and fled on foot. He said he tried to surrender when police caught up to him a second time but that Moran punched and choked him and struck him with a knee.

“Kidis was shirtless, shoeless, intoxicated, badly scratched, and on the ground, face down and with his hands out, having tired from a lengthy flight from the police,” said the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Kidis accused Moran of excessive force, and the case went to trial in 2018 in federal court in Detroit. A jury said the officer violated Kidis’ rights but that the force wasn’t a proximate cause of his injuries. He was awarded $1.

At the same time, the jury awarded $200,000 in punitive damages, which are considered a punishment against a defendant.

“One might fairly conclude that the punitive damages here should be low or perhaps even zero,” Judge Chad Readler wrote. “At the same time, we must remain cognizant of the twin aims of punitive damages: deterrence and retribution.”

The case now will return to U.S. District Judge Sean Cox with instructions that punitive damages not exceed $50,000.

The court doesn’t “seek to shield rogue officers from liability,” Readler and Judge Danny Boggs said. “We merely seek to honor the overriding considerations before us: the jury’s verdict and the due process limits on that verdict.”

In a dissent, Judge Richard Griffin said the $200,000 award should stand.

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