Federal Judge Cites Municipal Immunity in Nixing Award Against Conn. Town

July 12, 2007

A federal judge has thrown out a $2.5 million jury award against the town of East Haven, Conn. in connection with the police killing of a 21-year-old man in 1997.

U.S. District Judge Alvin W. Thompson, in a decision last Friday, cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision that municipalities are immune from punitive damages.

A federal jury in Hartford in July 2003 ruled that East Haven Sgt. Robert Flodquist, who is white, used excessive force and committed a civil rights violation when he killed Malik Jones, who was black. It awarded $2.5 million in punitive damages to Jones’ family.

Thompson, however, did grant a motion by Jones’ mother, Emma Jones, for a new trial solely on compensatory damages, which include possible compensation for the loss of Jones’ life and any pain and suffering he endured. The jury did not award any compensatory damages in its verdict.

Emma Jones could not be reached for comment Sunday night.

Hugh Keefe, a lawyer for East Haven, said the judge made the right call.

“The town of East Haven is very happy with the decision throwing out the $2 million judgment,” Keefe said.

Flodquist had testified that he shot Jones after a car chase because Jones drove at him, putting his life in danger.

The officer was cleared of wrongdoing after a state investigation. A federal investigation found that Flodquist did not follow proper procedure when he approached the vehicle without waiting for backup, but it did not find enough evidence to prosecute him for civil rights violations.

The jury of six whites and one black found that the town, not Flodquist, was ultimately responsible for the civil rights violation. Jones’ family had accused East Haven police of targeting blacks.

After the verdict was announced, Emma Jones called it historic.

“This case will have implications for towns and cities across the country. This decision will impact the lives of so many people and sends a clear message — if you sanction police murder and abuse of our children, the town will have to pay.”

The law enforcement community was stunned and angered by the verdict.

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