ST. LOUIS • A federal jury awarded $865,000 on Thursday to a St. Louis man who claimed he had been beaten while in handcuffs by a city police officer.
The federal civil rights suit brought by Kenneth Rohrbough, a Marine Corps veteran, in 2008 prompted the judge in the case to openly question the city Police Board's handling of abuse allegations against officers.
After about eight hours of deliberations, jurors found that Officer Luther Hall used excessive force, failed to intervene to protect Rohrbough, and conspired to violate his civil rights. Jurors also decided that Rohrbough was beaten by an as-yet-unidentified officer.
Rohrbough's suit also had named the Police Board as a defendant, accusing it of lax oversight. The suit cited statistics that show that in the five years before the 2002 incident, only one out of 322 complaints of excessive force was sustained. But jurors found in favor of the Police Board, and in favor of another officer, Anna Kimble, who had been accused of conspiracy.
Hall, who remains an officer, referred questions to a lawyer for the officers and the Police Board. That lawyer, Robert J. Isaacson, declined to comment. He had previously said that Rohrbough never told anyone that he had been beaten until lawyers got involved.
A Police Department spokeswoman said Thursday that the board "is evaluating the decision and that no decisions regarding any appeals have been made at this time."
The department did not respond to e-mailed questions about who would pay the verdict or whether there was or would be an investigation into the identity or actions of the unidentified officer.
Outside the courtroom, Steve Ryals, an attorney for Rohrbough, said, "I'm happy that we got a measure of justice for Kenny Rohrbough."
He said that he hoped that the verdict would prompt the department to investigate and identify the unidentified officer. He added that the department 'should have been investigating this" before the jury verdict.
This is Rohrbough's second trial. The first jury was unable to reach a verdict in April.
The incident took place near Crown Candy Kitchen in north St. Louis.
An employee of a nearby business told police that Rohrbough had been disruptive. Hall approached Rohrbough, who was walking away, and Rohrbough spun around and took a defensive stance, fists up, Hall testified Wednesday.
Rohrbough then took a swing at Hall, who grabbed his arm and took him to the ground, then handcuffed him, Hall said.
Hall denied striking Rohrbough or allowing anyone else to strike Rohrbough.
Rohrbough, 55, the son of a former St. Louis police officer, has difficulty communicating because of injuries from a severe car crash 30 years ago. He used a mix of words and gestures to tell jurors that another officer beat him after he was handcuffed.
In refusing to dismiss the case in 2008, U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber accused the Police Board of turning a "blind eye" to abuse complaints.
Webber found that Police Board members never asked for statistics on brutality complaints or investigations, and rarely asked to review internal affairs cases.
"This evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to find that the (board is) deliberately indifferent to the risk that officers are using excessive force," he wrote at the time.
The department was also miscategorizing some complaints, according to department internal affairs summaries made public after the Post-Dispatch filed a legal motion to disclose them on the public's behalf.