ATLANTA (AP) – A federal jury in Atlanta has awarded $100 million to a handyman who fell and broke his neck when a police officer shocked him with a stun gun during a chase, news agencies report.
Jerry Blasingame now requires around-the-clock care that costs $1 million a year and has medical bills of $14 million so far, attorney Ven Johnson told jurors.
Jurors found that Officer Jon Grubbs used unjustified force against Blasingame, who was 65 and soliciting money from drivers on July 10, 2018. He was paralyzed from the neck down and is now 69.
Jurors found that the Atlanta Police Department should pay $60 million and Grubbs should pay $40 million, WXIA-TV and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
The municipality has filed a motion for a directed verdict. A judge’s ruling on this motion can modify the jury’s verdict.
Judge Steve Jones has yet to rule on that request, online court records show. Jones ruled before deliberations began that jurors could reasonably find that Grubbs used excessive force and could consider the city’s argument.
“The record would have allowed the jury to find that Mr. Blasingame had not committed a serious crime prior to his exoneration / that Officer Grubbs did not fear for his safety / and that the exigent circumstances were not otherwise so severe as to allow Officer Grubbs to use force,” Jones wrote Friday.
Blasingame’s bodyguard, Keith Edwards, is suing the city of Atlanta and the officer, Jon Grubbs, for the cost of his past and future medical bills.
Johnson and civil rights attorney Craig Jones said Grubbs violated department policy by using a stun gun on an elderly man who was leaving, the newspaper reported.
Edwards’ lawsuit said Blasingame was in the street asking people for money when Grubbs and another officer arrived and saw him talking to a driver.
Grubbs got out of the patrol car and told Blasingame to stop, but he pulled off the road into a guardrail and Grubbs ran toward him, according to the lawsuit.
“Grubbs gets out of the car and starts chasing my client—a 65-year-old man—and for what? For possibly asking people for money?’ Johnson said.
Johnson said the city did not conduct a thorough enough investigation into Grubbs’ conduct and let him return to full duty six months after the incident and before the investigation was completed.
“This is how an officer gets away with excessive force,” he told jurors in his closing argument. “You bury it.”
Staci J. Miller, one of the attorneys representing Atlanta and Grubbs, said Blasingame’s injuries were tragic, but city training and department policy were not to blame.
Attorneys for the city of Atlanta, who also represented Grubbs, were not available to comment on the verdict, and a spokesman for Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens declined to comment, the newspaper said.
Grubbs joined the Atlanta Police Department as a cadet in December 2013, according to Georgia Peace Officer Training and Standards Board records. He became a full officer a year later and has served on the force ever since.
He has no penalties on POST records and is listed as an officer in good standing by the state police certification agency.