A man beaten by police officers in the City of St. Louis has settled with the Missouri Attorney General’s office for more than eight times his original demand.
“It’s a tremendous outcome for my client,” said attorney Philip Tatlow of Bollwerk & Tatlow in Kirkwood, one of the three attorneys representing the plaintiff, Calvin Fletcher Sr. “I think that defendants need to take plaintiffs seriously, because if they don’t value their case properly, they may get hit with a lot more.”
The attorney general’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The case originated on March 6, 2013. According to court documents, three city officers in a patrol car pulled up in front of Fletcher on that evening as he walked on North 13th Street near its intersection with Cass Avenue. The three officers later said they believed Fletcher was carrying a weapon and had tossed a substance suspected to be crack cocaine onto the ground. When the officers exited their vehicle and approached Fletcher, he began to back away. They caught up with him and, according to Fletcher’s lawsuit, beat him, put him in the patrol car, slammed the door on his head and took him to the city jail. No weapon was found in his possession.
His injuries included a broken nose, eye socket and cheekbone, in addition to a head injury and cuts and bruises to his legs, arms, chest and head. He also suffered internal cranial bleeding and, in danger of kidney failure, was taken to Saint Louis University Hospital, where he stayed in intensive care for two weeks. He was charged with drug possession, resisting arrest and assault on an officer, but lab tests on the bag he threw on the ground failed to detect a controlled substance. The circuit attorney’s office dropped all charges.
Fletcher’s lawsuit initially named the officers, the City of St. Louis, its police department, the city Board of Police Commissioners and Corizon Inc., a company that provides medical care at the city jail, as defendants. Tatlow said he settled with most defendants before trial.
Four city officers were defendants when the trial took place in October 2016 in U.S. Federal Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. The attorney general’s office represented them because the alleged offense occurred when the police department was under state control.
The jury found two of the officers not liable but found officers Nicholas Martorano and John Moton each liable for $100,000 in actual damages and $200,000 in punitive damages, for a total of $600,000. The judge further awarded plaintiff’s counsel $180,000 in attorney’s fees.
The attorney general filed an appeal. One of the state’s arguments was that the district court had erred in allowing the plaintiff to read from the deposition of Dr. Arnold Berns, a medical expert retained by counsel for the city jail medical provider. Berns had testified that the proximate cause of Fletcher’s acute kidney injury was ultimately due to “direct muscle trauma.” The state argued it had no chance to cross-examine the witness at trial.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the state’s argument on this point “flies in the face of unyielding facts,” given that the state did in fact cross-examine Berns during the deposition itself and made no objections to the deposition designations that were timely made by Fletcher before trial.
After the appeals court upheld the judgment, Tatlow said, he filed a motion for more attorneys’ fees than had been awarded. At that point, he said, the state settled on $250,000 for those fees, bringing the total settlement to $850,000.
“I think it’s helpful for other people to read [about this case],” Tatlow said, “because it shows excessive force in this day and age isn’t going to be tolerated.”
Civil Rights — Excessive Force
Venue: U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri
Case Number/Date: 4:14-CV-999 RLW
Breakdown: $850,000 total. Two defendants were each liable for $100,000 in actual damages, and $200,000 in punitive damages. Defendants also must pay $250,000 in attorney’s fees.
Special Damages: $11,000 paid by Medicare
Last Pretrial Demand: $100,000
Last Pretrial Offer: $12,000
Caption: Calvin Fletcher, Sr. v. Nicholas Martorano and John Moton
Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Phillip A. Tatlow, Bollwerk & Tatlow, St. Louis
Defendant’s Attorneys: Henry F. “Bud” Luepke III, Missouri Attorney General’s Office