Jury: Covington Police Did Not Use Excessive Force
A five-day trial at the United States Courthouse in Covington ended Friday with a unanimous verdict from an 8-person jury that found that five Covington Police officers did not use excessive force against six plaintiffs after breaking up a party in 2009.
(For Background, See: Trial Begins as Six Accuse Covington Police of Excessive Force)
The four men and four women that made up the jury each responded together to seventeen questions about whether excessive force or unlawful touching took place when the officers arrested the six plaintiffs on the 700 block of Greenup.
A party was thrown at a house on that block owned by Shai Elias in celebration of the home's restoration and awards. A loud music complaint from a neighbor prompted Covington Police Officers Michael Lusardi and Joshua Bornhorn to enter the property.
From there, stories conflicted.
The officers argued that the six remaining guests of the party became mouthy and violent while the plaintiffs claimed that the officers were immediately aggressive and unnecessarily rough with them.
Lusardi and Bornhorn were accused of using excessive force on Elias and guest Anthony Gonzalez as well as unlawfully touching guests Betsy Miller, and Elias's girlfriend Theresa Pincapatta. Bornhorn was also accused of unlawfully touching guest Lisa Lewis. Three other officers who responded to the scene when Lusardi sent out a request for back-up when things took a turn for the worse, also faced a federal suit.
Officer Rob Fulton was accused of using excessive force on Miller; Justin Wietholter faced accusations of using excessive force and unlawfully touching Michael Martin; Scott Dames was named in the suit for allegedly using excessive force on and unlawfully touching Miller.
The jury did not support any of those seventeen claims.
"Justice has triumphed," said attorney Phila Taliaferro, who represented Officers Dames and Fulton. "There was a question with the jury on whether or not this was a frivolous lawsuit and the jury voted on every single charge, no, so that gives you an indication on whether it was frivolous."
Attorney Jeff Mando represented Bornhorn and Lusardi while attorney Bob Motz represented Wietholter. The plaintiffs were represented by attorney Chris Roach of the Eric Deters Law Firm.
Covington City Solicitor Frank Warnock said he was unsure on how much the five-day trial would cost but said that the city would seek attorney fees from the plaintiffs.
The case is eligible for appeal.
Covington Police Chief Spike Jones issued a statement after the verdict was revealed. "These police officers were subjected to a federal lawsuit predicated upon mistruths and misrepresentation of facts surrounding an arrest situation...," Jones said. "Today a federal jury ruled that our police officers acted appropriately during the arrest of the six drunk and disorderly individuals."
"I am very proud of these five officers for the patience and professionalism that they displayed not only during this trial but moreover on the night of July 17, 2009. Officers Dames, Fulton, Lusardi, Wietholter, and Bornhorn are truly, consummate police professionals."
Story by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News
Photo: Covington officers and attorneys talk outside the federal courthouse on Friday/RCN