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APD Loses Brutality Case

By Debra Dominguez-Lund
Copyright 2006 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
    A formerly homeless man who suffered severe burns and lost part of his ear when he was arrested by three Albuquerque police officers four years ago was awarded about $300,000 by a federal jury Friday.
    Despite the verdict in U.S. District Court, Jerome Hall, who suffered permanent disfiguration from the September 2002 incident, said he'll never feel he's gotten complete justice.
    "They took my dignity away from me in public," said Hall, who says police officers unlawfully arrested him, used Tasers on him and beat him excessively after he was warned not to walk along Central east of Nob Hill. "They treated me like an animal because I was black and homeless— like I was less than nothing. It was a public lynching in modern times."
    The jury found that Albuquerque police officers Tim Gonterman, Sean Higdon and David Hinson used "excessive force" when they arrested Hall in September 2002, said Hall's attorney, Louren Oliveros.
    Kathryn Levy, the city attorney representing the police officers, couldn't be reached for comment.
    However, City Attorney Robert White said the city accepts the jury's decision.
    "The jury entered its verdict, and we accept its decision with regard to the amount (awarded to Hall)," White said. "And since that particular incident, APD has reviewed and changed its Taser policy."
    Hall's attorneys claimed the officers had no lawful reason to arrest, assault or falsely imprison Hall, saying he was just walking along Central and complied with all officers' orders. City attorneys claimed in court documents that the officers acted in good faith, using reasonable police procedures and tactics.
    City attorneys also maintained, according to court documents, that the officers had probable cause to arrest Hall, 42, for various crimes, including public nuisance, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and criminal trespassing.
    Court documents say Gonterman stopped Hall because police had received complaints of narcotic sales by people on foot in the area, and that he observed Hall acting suspiciously.
    Oliveros claimed in the suit that the three officers beat Hall, and that Gonterman applied his Taser "to Mr. Hall's body multiple times inflicting second and third-degree burns."
    She said Hall lost part of his ear as a result of being burned.
    Hall admits that he had been addicted to drugs but says he has since been through rehabilitation programs. He said he's going to use the money to help get his life back on track and help his four children.
    "I want to re-establish my relationships with them and eventually go back to college in the fall," said Hall, a former medical technician and disabled U.S. Army veteran.
    "I hope my story shows people redemption is possible for anyone," said Hall, who said his drug addiction led him to homelessness. "The beating made me feel like I was written off as a subhuman, like I had no rights, like I was less than an animal and worthless.
    "But homeless or not, we have rights and a voice," Hall said. "And I feel those men should not be cops or even security guards because they pose a possible threat to anyone who's not like them."
    APD spokesman John Walsh said that because the incident took place in 2002 under former APD Chief Gilbert Gallegos, he didn't know whether the officers ever faced any disciplinary action. All three still work for APD.
    "I'd be more than happy to review it, though," Walsh said. "But as far as that chapter's concerned, it's closed now."
    "The position of the city is that it felt strong that the actions of the police officers back then fell under the scoping guidelines of 2002 and the use-of-force model (for Tasers)," said Walsh, adding that the Police Department's policy regarding Tasers has since been made much more restrictive.
    Oliveros, who represented Hall with her husband, Robert Gorence, applauded the jury's verdict.
    "The defendants did their best to make Hall look as least human as possible," she said. "But the jury's verdict is a good sign society is starting to see through racial and class profiling, as well as the complete disregard these people are often treated with."