Innocent man awarded $18 after punched and Tasered

  • 31/08/2016
DeShawn Franklin (Washington Post)
DeShawn Franklin (Washington Post)

An 18-year-old black high school student in the United States was awarded just US$18 after being punched, Tasered and arrested over a crime he did not commit.

DeShawn Franklin was asleep at home when police stormed in, their weapons drawn. They Tasered him and dragged him outside. He was handcuffed and placed in the back of a police car.

"I didn't even know what was going on," he told The Washington Post. "I was just asleep. It was just all a big shock and disturbance."

Mr Franklin matched the description of a suspect police were chasing - a slim African-American man with dreadlocks.

Following the Indiana incident in 2012, a civil rights lawsuit was brought against the police and city officials.

This month the jury decided officers had infringed Mr Franklin's constitutional rights in entering his family home and arresting him without a warrant.

But each of the defendants only had to pay Mr Franklin and his parents US$1 for the incident, making the total award US$18 in damages.

While the jury found constitutional violations, there was no substantial evidence for the US$1 million in damages the family was seeking.

Damages for civil rights lawsuits are typically measured by medical bills, lost wages, property damage, post-traumatic stress, psychological treatment, impairment or other issues - none of which was presented in evidence to the court.

Local South Bend, Indiana pastor Reverend Mario Sims said the award sends an unfortunate message: "Your rights are worth a dollar."

"To me it's just solidifying that blacks in America, we have no rights," says Mr Franklin's nephew, Russell Thomas Jr.

"How can we fight for something when the system was not made for us in the first place?"

The city did offer US$15,000 to settle the case, according to the Indianapolis Star. But the family's lawyer, Johnny Ulmer, did not feel the amount on offer was adequate, saying damages for similar cases are between US$100,000 and US$300,000.

"What happened that night, the physical abuse that DeShawn suffered - they were slapping my clients in the face with the offer they put out there."

Mr Thomas Jr says Mr Franklin lacks any criminal history. But the incident has left the now 22-year-old distrustful of police officers and in fear it might happen again.

Officers Eric Mentz, Aaron Knepper and Michael Stuk at the time were looking for Dan Jones - Mr Franklin's older brother after receiving a call of domestic violence. They believed he had gone to his parents' house.

Mother Vivian Franklin answered the door at around 2:30am on July 7, 2012. A report from the police department shows the officers went inside without a warrant and without asking for permission to enter.

When police tried to get Mr Franklin out of bed he resisted, so he was then punched and Tasered. Though law enforcement quickly realised they had the wrong person, Mr Franklin was handcuffed and taken into custody for resisting.

He was released shortly after and an apology was issued to his family.

The report shows officers used excessive force and unlawfully entered the family home. The offers in question were disciplined for the incident and the police department initiated new classes on ethics and diversity, according to the Indianapolis Star.

A lack of diversity on the South Bend police force has been called into question after other similar tensions in the city. More than of quarter of the population is African-American; however, of the 250 officers in 2014, only 25 were black, fewer than 10 were Hispanic and 20 were female, according to a local TV news station.

The city is also under fire for sex and race discrimination lawsuits brought by current police officers. The South Bend Tribune reports the city has settled three lawsuits involving racially motivated hate speech by police.

Mr Franklin says the settlement is hard to accept.

"No one would feel it's appropriate for your constitutional rights to be valued at a dollar," he told The Washington Post.

"I can't really say how much it would be worth, but no one's life is really worth that amount of money.

"You got to still get up and try to make the best of every situation you have."