September 18th, 2010 will be a day that William Jennings will never forget. Neither will the six deputies sued for senselessly beating Jennings. Even the jurors who heard the case for two weeks in the fall of 2016 probably can’t forget what they saw at trial. Much of Jennings torture was caught on video.
Jennings, age 46, was pulled over and arrested late on the night of the 18th by an officer with the Flint (Michigan) Police Department.
After his arrest, he was taken for booking at the Genesee County Jail. At the jail, Jennings was beaten, dragged to the floor, had his face smashed against a cement wall and then was tied down and left to suffer for hours.
What makes his assault especially heinous is the people who were responsible for the brutal attack. They were deputy sheriffs, not other inmates.
On the night of Jennings’ arrest, Lt. Robert Nuckolls was the supervisor on duty at the jail. Under his command were several deputies including Patrick Fuller, David Kenamer, Mark Wing and Jason White.
Lest you think we are biased in our telling of Mr. Jennings’ story, the version of facts comes from the trial judge. The first several hours of Jennings confinement was captured on video. It is probably that ghastly video that helped jurors later decide the case in favor of William Jennings.
As the assault begins, the video (available below) shows two of the deputies, Kenamer and Fuller, forcing Jennings’ face into a hard bench. The video reveals Jennings screaming in pain. Although defense witnesses tried to present some justification for the deputies’ actions, we can see no justification. (Nor could the judge and jury.)
Jennings was next thrown to the floor. Both deputies were kneeling on Jennings’ back. Jennings weighed a mere 160 lbs at the time of his arrest. Each of deputies weighed between 55 to 120 pounds more!
Two more big deputies joined the pile-on. Deputy Fuller can be seen punching Jennings with a closed fist.
By now, the shift supervisor, Lt. Nuckolls entered the fray. Instead of restoring order and helping Jennings (who continued to scream in pain), Nuckolls pulled out a can of pepper spray and sprays Jennings in the face.
Jennings was then picked up off the floor by his handcuffed arms, an extremely painful and dangerous maneuver. Jennings fell to the floor with the full weight of Deputy Fuller falling on top of him. As noted earlier, Jennings is 160 lbs. Fuller was 280 lbs.
Jennings was dragged into a “safety cell.” By this point, Jennings was losing consciousness and spitting blood. Nuckolls reappears, this time with a Taser instead of pepper spray.
Jennings was strapped into a restraint chair and remained handcuffed. As they restrained him, Jennings regains consciousness and is once again flailing in pain. Jennings face was forced into the floor. Ultimately, he was covered with a spit shield. (Spitting is common after being sprayed in the face with pepper spray. Whether it was directed at the officers or just an unconscious reaction to the spray is the real question.)
While Jennings lay handcuffed and face down on the floor, Nuckolls tased him for what cops call a “full ride.” Five seconds of a 50,000 volt electrical shock. Jail policy is to use the Taser for only a 1 second duration.
For reasons unknown, Lt. Nuckolls decided to substitute a bed instead of the restraint chair. After a struggle, Mr. Jennings was strapped down face first on the bed and with the spit hood over his face. Medical experts say that such a tactic is dangerous and can even be fatal, especially for someone having difficulty breathing and possibly intoxicated.
Jennings lay in the bed for two and half hours. Except for a short visit by a nurse, he was left alone and face down. He says at one point someone not visible to him or the camera came to the door and told him he was going to die.
Jennings said he was afraid that he really would die. The mask was filled with his blood making it difficult for him to breathe. He also had trouble breathing because of how he was restrained and because of the pepper spray. As he lapsed in and out of consciousness, Jennings made a last ditch effort to gnaw through the mask to keep from asphyxiating on his own blood. In the process, he chipped a tooth.
After shift change, new deputies freed Jennings and two new nurses checked on him. They noted he had shallow breathing and his eyes were swollen shut. One of the nurses told him to go immediately to a hospital upon his release.
He did go the hospital and learned that two of his facial bones were fractured. Photographs showed injuries to his eyes, face, neck, head, shoulders, back, hips, ribs, knees and legs.
A later exam revealed a permanent shoulder injury, one that isn’t fixable and likely resulted from his beating. Another physician found that a subsequent cataract two months after the arrest was also likely caused by the corrections officers.
Perhaps some of the worst injuries were mental. Jennings was diagnosed with severe PTSD as a result of the police brutality suffered at the Genesee County Jail.
Jennings Police Brutality Case Goes to Trial
Genesee County refused to settle the case. In October and November 2016, jurors heard 12 days of testimony from both sides. Their verdict tells the story. Jennings was awarded millions of dollars of damages. The verdict was against each of the deputies as follows:
- $10.42 million (past and present)
- $7.21 million (future)
- SUBTOTAL: $17.63 million
- $5 million (Nuckolls)
- $5 million (Fuller)
- $4 million (Kenamer)
- $3 million (Wing)
- $2 million (White)
- SUBTOTAL: $19 million
TOTAL DAMAGES: $36,630,000.00
Because the county provided the deputies’ defense, Genesee County is liable for the total amount.
That should be the end of the story but it’s not.
Genesee County asked the court to toss the jury’s verdict and award. They also asked the court to reduce the damages, something that is relatively common when punitive damages are awarded. In total, the defendants brought 9 separate motions for a new trial.
In May of 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Avern Cohn decided Genesee’s many motions.
Although he found the police brutality was shocking he granted a “remittitur” and suggested that compensatory damages (pain, suffering and medical bills) be reduced to $5 million and that punitive damages be reduced to $6 million for a total award of $11,000,000.00.
A remittitur is a procedure that allows a judge to review a jury’s findings as to the amount of damages. Under the law, “a trial court is within its discretion in remitting a verdict only when, after reviewing all evidence in the light most favorable to the awardee, it is convinced that the verdict is clearly excessive.”
Part of the reason that Judge Cohn reduced the verdict was the lack of evidence to support the verdict. The court found,
- Jennings has had minimal continued medical care
- There has been no diminishment in his earnings
- He continues to work 50 to 70 hours a week
- He has had only a single visit to a doctor for his psychological injuries and that visit was for an evaluation for the diagnosis, and
- He has a continued committed relationship
In wrapping up a 42 page opinion, Judge Cohn said, “There is an old idiom. ‘A picture is worth a thousand words.’ It is attributed to prominent journalists and advertisers in the early twentieth century. Little better explains the verdict reached in this case.”
Unfortunately, Genesee County rejected the remittitur. This case shows no signs of ending soon. William Jennings may be waiting for justice a little while longer.
Corrections Officers, Jail Guards and Police Brutality
Prosecuting cops and jail guards isn’t easy. Many jurors want to believe that our law enforcement and corrections officers are above reproach. Jail cases are even tougher because of a preconceived notion that people jail are there for a reason.
We know of course, that many people in jail are pretrial detainees in custody solely for booking purposes. Like Mr. Jennings, they are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Even if someone is guilty, everyone is entitled to basic human rights including the right to be treated humanely and with dignity. For jurors watching the Jennings video, many saw for the first time what goes on behind jail walls.
Federal law gives citizens the right to sue for corrections officer misconduct, police brutality, false arrest, excessive force, and other mistreatment at the hands of those acting under color of state law.
If you are seriously injured in jail or at the hands of police or if a loved one is killed by officer, call us immediately.
The time periods for bring claims against government agencies are often quite limited. Sometimes less than one year. And governments have developed highly complex procedural roadblocks to protect themselves from being held accountable for their actions.
We prosecute cases against police officers, jail guards and other public servants. A civil rights lawsuit against the police (often called 1983 lawsuits) require very special skills. This is no time to call a personal injury lawyer.
For an immediate and confidential evaluation of you case, call 866.836.4684 today or use our online report form
See the Video: Caution Disturbing Images of Horrific Police Actions