How much is a security guard assault case worth? In Georgia, a jury decided to award Hope Cheston $1 billion after an apartment complex security guard raped her when she was only 14. The incident occurred outside Pointe South Apartments in Jonesboro during an afternoon birthday party when Ms. Cheston was in a picnic area with her boyfriend.
The armed guard, identified as Brandon Lamar Zachary, told the boyfriend not to move and proceeded to rape Ms. Cheston. Zachary was later convicted of statutory rape, and is serving a 20-year sentence.
The girl’s mother, Renatta Cheston-Thornton, filed a lawsuit on her daughter’s behalf against the apartment complex, HACC Pointe South Inc., the property manager, Hammond Residential Group Inc., and Zachary’s employer, Crime Prevention Agency Inc. The court dismissed HACC and Hammond prior to trial. The case proceeded against Crime Prevention Agency. The trial lasted one day before the judge decided that CPA was liable. The jury’s sole task was to award damages, and they promptly delivered the staggering verdict.
Security companies like CPA can be liable for their employee’s misdeeds under two legal theories. The first, negligent hiring and supervision, essentially means that the security company failed to screen applicants properly or observe them on the job to detect potential problems. The second, respondeat superior, means that an employer is responsible for an employee’s negligent actions while on the job.
However, Zachary’s actions went beyond negligence to deliberate criminal conduct, so the first legal theory is pertinent in this case. According to Ms. Cheston’s attorney, Zachary, who was 22 at the time, should never have been hired, because he wasn’t licensed to serve as an armed guard.
Million-dollar verdicts for sexual assault victims are not uncommon, but the size of this award for a case with a single victim is truly amazing. Ms. Cheston had claimed her injuries included emotional distress, post-traumatic stress disorder, rape, and sexual assault.
Following the incident, Ms. Cheston was taken to a hospital where she underwent a rape kit and was discharged. She later received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and underwent a few years of care by a psychotherapist. At trial, Ms. Cheston testified that she had undergone a personality change, lost friends, and became socially withdrawn. Her relationship with her mother was strained, and she came to distrust authority, especially males in authority, such as police. In asking the jury to value Ms. Cheston’s damages, her attorney asked the jury to consider that athletes are paid hundreds of millions of dollars in our society.
An appeals court could find the award disproportional and based on passion rather than reason. In that case, the award could be lowered. On the other hand, the facts in the case were particularly egregious, and this damage award would stand as a warning to other security firms that they must do a better job in vetting employees. As of this writing, a higher court has not ruled one way or the other.
Shortly after the rape occurred, the corporation known as Crime Prevention Agency was dissolved, and the business was reconstituted under a new name. This is a common ploy by corporate defendants seeking to avoid paying a judgment. It can buy them additional time, but as the saying goes, “You can run, but you can’t hide.”
If a private security guard has assaulted you or a loved one, you have rights. Security guards are not officers of the law. They do not enjoy qualified immunity, nor do their employers have sovereign immunity. That means you can sue the guard individually and the company. To learn more, contact our lawyers online or at 866.836.4684 for a free, confidential consultation.