A Multnomah County Oregon jury awarded a 33-year-old woman $82,000 Thursday, saying they wanted to send Portland police a message: Hand over a business card the next time a citizen asks for one.
Several jurors who spoke to The Oregonian after the verdict in Multnomah County Circuit Court said police werenâ€™t dealing with an urgent or dangerous situation on the evening of Feb. 13, 2009 â€” when Sheiâ€™Meka Newmann questioned what she thought was an unnecessarily rough arrest of a fellow MAX rider. It would have taken only a few seconds for an officer to hand Newmann a card, jurors said.
â€œI think that police need to be reminded that itâ€™s part of their job to de-escalate and defuse situations,â€ said juror Chris Bolles.
Instead, jurors say police overreacted to Newmannâ€™s queries.
After Newmann saw Officer Aaron Dauchy pull a 29-year-old black man off the train and handcuff him on the ground, she asked him why the man was under arrest. Dauchy asked her why it was her business.
She responded that she was a concerned citizen, to which Dauchy replied he didnâ€™t have to tell her unless she was the manâ€™s attorney.
Newmann then asked Dauchyâ€™s partner, Officer Jim Sandvik, for a business card. But he refused, took her ID, then said he planned to exclude her from TriMet.
Newmann testified said that she said sheâ€™d be fine because she can drive her car to work. And that when she stepped toward the officer to read the name off his uniform and jot it down on a piece of paper, Sandvik struck her in the upper chest. He also twisted her arm so hard she thought it was going to break, before handcuffing her, she said.
She was taken to jail and released early the next morning with no money, cellphone or shoelaces.
Sandvik, however, told a very different story. He said Newmann was screaming, angry and demanding â€” and had approached him from behind as he was trying to deal with four drunken men. Sandvik also said Newmann ignored repeated lawful orders to get back.
Deputy City Attorney Jim Rice argued that officers have a legitimate reason to tell civilians to stand back when they approach from behind â€” thereâ€™s a risk the civilian might grab an officerâ€™s gun or stab the officer from behind.
â€œIf people donâ€™t comply … there is a consequence,â€ Rice said.
Whatâ€™s more, Rice said, â€œYou donâ€™t have a right to a card when you want it. You have a right to the card if it doesnâ€™t impede law enforcement.â€
Jurors, however, said they watched minutes of TriMet video, which showed multiple officers standing around doing nothing much.
Newmann also testified that she never saw Sandvik talking to four drunken men.
Part of her testimony was backed up by Officer Paul Valdez, who testified Newmann was polite and didnâ€™t do anything that could be considered interfering with an officer, which was what she was charged with doing.
Rice argued that Newmann had a distorted view of what happened that night: For one, video didnâ€™t show Officer Dauchy pulling the man off the train as roughly as Newmann described. That man has been arrested 117 times â€” mostly for minor misdeeds such as not paying MAX fare or disorderly conduct â€” and he wasnâ€™t supposed to be riding MAX that night because he had been excluded.
Newmannâ€™s attorney, Greg Kafoury, said he understands the police officersâ€™ â€œincredible frustrationâ€ with such a repeat low-level offender. And that despite the cityâ€™s argument that Newmann overreacted to what she saw, â€œit doesnâ€™t really matter. She has a right to ask for a card,â€ Kafoury said.
Kafoury said the disrespectful treatment of Newmann doesnâ€™t do much to help relations between the young black community and police.
The criminal case against Newmann was dismissed when Sandvik didnâ€™t show up to court. He said he had a migraine headache.
Newmann said she was hesitant to sue but did so because the students she mentors encouraged her to stand up for what is right.
Newmann was bounced between eight group and foster homes as a pre-teen and teen. She graduated from Benson Polytechnic High School as a star varsity athlete with a 3.8 GPA. Sheâ€™s been a foster mom and taught Sunday school. She also has worked as the mailroom administrator at Wieden+Kennedy for years.
In 2007, she was given the mayorâ€™s Spirit of Portland Award for her volunteer work with Jefferson High School students during her lunch breaks.
Her attorneys â€” Kafoury and his son, Jason Kafoury â€” describe Newmann as an upstanding citizen who has a passion for helping disadvantaged youth and young adults. After her arrest, her reputation suffered when some church members gave her the cold shoulder and parents pulled their children away from her.
â€œIt takes great courage for a citizen to stand up to the power of police,â€ said Greg Kafoury. â€œBut aside from Sheiâ€™Mekaâ€™s integrity, we salute Officer Valdezâ€ and other officers who could have testified for the city but didnâ€™t.
JURIES are the answer to government dishonesty, abuse, and corruption. William M. Windsor