Edwards et al v. Hartford et al
ORDER denying 174 Motion for Judgment; denying 175 Motion for New Trial for the reasons set forth in the attached Ruling. The verdict in favor of Kenville Edwards is sustained. The amount of punitive damages is reduced as stated in the attached. Signed by Judge William I. Garfinkel on 11/28/17. (Cates, S)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
FABIAN EDWARDS and KENVILLE
MATTHEW CORNELL, CHRISTOPHER
MAY, and THE CITY OF HARTFORD,
In this civil rights action, plaintiffs, Fabian Edwards and his brother Kenville Edwards,
brought claims against the City of Hartford and Harford police officers Matthew Cornell and
Christopher May. On April 27, 2017, after a jury trial, a jury rendered a verdict for Officer
Cornell on claims brought by Fabian Edwards. The jury also returned a verdict for Kenville
Edwards on his claims against Officer May. 1 The jury found that Officer May violated
Kenville’s civil rights by using excessive force against him; it awarded $135,000.00 in
compensatory damages and $275,000.00 in punitive damages. Now before the Court is Officer
This was the second trial in this matter. After a trial held in December 2016, a jury found in
favor of Officer Cornell on claims brought by Kenville Edwards and in favor of Officer May on
claims brought by Fabian Edwards. The jury failed to reach a verdict on the excessive force
claim brought by Fabian Edwards against Officer Cornell and on the excessive force claim
brought by Kenville Edwards against Officer May. The jury in the first trial also found in favor
of Officer Baumgarten on an excessive force claim brought against him by Kenville Edwards,
and rendered verdicts in favor of the officers on claims brought by additional members of the
May’s Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law [Doc. # 174] and Motion for a New Trial [Doc.
The following evidence was adduced at trial.2
Testimony of Fabian Edwards
On June 14, 2012, Fabian was living in a multi-family house owned by his mother,
Elizabeth Edwards. (Tr. 1237-38). His mother lived on the first floor, Fabian lived on the
second floor, and Fabian’s brother, Kenville Edwards, lived on the third floor. (Tr. 1238).
Paulino’s Grocery Store was across the street from the home. (Tr. 1241). On June 14, 2012,
Fabian arrived home from work around 4 or 5 p.m. and at some point that evening noticed
activity going on outside of the house. (Tr. 1249). He saw a police cruiser near Paulino’s and
people outside. (Tr. 1250). He also saw other police cars in the area. (Tr. 1251). Fabian wanted
to go into Paulino’s to get a beer. (Tr. 1253). He testified that he stopped outside of the front of
the store to call his wife when Officer May told him to “get in the fucking store or [he would]
arrest [him].” (Tr. 1258). Fabian moved toward the store and then Officer May pushed him
inside. (Tr. 1258).
Soon after, Fabian left the store without purchasing anything, crossed the street, and
jumped over the fence into his yard. (Tr. 1259). Once in the yard, he yelled to the officers,
Officer May and Officer Cornell, “why did you push me?” (Tr. 1260). The officers then entered
the Edwards’s property and Elizabeth came out of the house. (Tr. 1261). Fabian and Elizabeth
were on the front porch of the house when the officers came up and asked Fabian for his
The Court is including here only the facts relevant to the issues presented in Officer May’s
motions; namely, those facts a reasonable jury finding in favor of Kenville Edwards could have
identification. (Tr. 1262). Fabian gave his identification to his mother and then saw Kenville
come onto the porch. (Tr. 1262).
Testimony of Officer Cornell
On June 14, 2012, Officer May and Officer Cornell were on duty, assigned to the
neighbored in which the Edwards’s home was located. (Tr. 1567). Officer Cornell noticed
Fabian Edwards when Fabian was standing at the fence in his yard. (Tr. 1577). He recalls
hearing Fabian yelling. (Tr. 1578). At some point, he and Officer May went over to Fabian.
(Tr. 1578). Officer Cornell saw Fabian walk up to the front porch of the home and then he and
Officer May went onto the property. (Tr. 1585, 1586). Fabian’s mother was standing on the
porch with Fabian. (Tr. 1587). At some point Kenville Edwards appeared on the porch. (Tr.
Testimony of Kenville Edwards
Kenville Edwards testified that he saw two officers walking towards the front porch of
his house after he saw Fabian and his mother walking to the front of the house. (Tr. 1438). He
came to the front of the house from around the back. (Tr. 1439). When he arrived at the front
porch, both officers were there with Fabian and Elizabeth. (Tr. 1439). He asked the officers
what his bother did. (Tr. 1439). Officer May asked Kenville if he lived there, and Kenville
replied yes. (Tr. 1439). Then, Officer May told Kenville to “back up off the porch.” (Tr. 1439).
Kenville again inquired about his brother. (Tr. 1439). At that point, Officer May grabbed
Kenville’s right hand and bent it behind him, and grabbed Kenville around the throat, “choking
[him].” (Tr. 1140). At some point thereafter, Officer May pushed Kenville away. (Tr. 1140).
Kenville stated he stumbled and then went inside the front door. (Tr. 1441). He did not believe,
at that time, that Officer May was attempting to place him under arrest. (Tr. 1481). Kenville
testified that if May wanted to arrest him, “all he had to say to [him] was just, put [his] hands
behind [his] back.” (Tr. 1482). Then, Officer May deployed pepper spray in Kenville’s face.
Kenville testified that at the time the pepper sprayed was deployed he was just inside the
doorway to the house; he tried to find the railing so that he could make his way upstairs. (Tr.
1442). He went from the first floor to his apartment on the third floor; his apartment door was
already open. (Tr. 1443). He went up the stairs “step by step,” but could not run because he
could not see. (Tr. 1443). Once he got into his apartment, there was a clear space “straight to
the kitchen.” (Tr. 1443). He felt his way to the kitchen sink, turned on the water, and tried to
flush out his eyes. (Tr. 1444). The water made the burning worse. (Tr. 1444). Then, he heard
“the door beating,” and his friend tell him that the police were there. (Tr. 1444).
Kenville testified that he “felt something hit [him] on [the] side of [his] head” when he
was at the sink, and it was “something hard… not a fist.” (Tr. 1444, 1447). He fell to the
ground. (Tr. 1446). He testified that he did not take a “fighting stance” while on the third floor.
(Tr. 1446). He could not even open his eyes to see where the officers were. (Tr. 1446). While
on the ground, he was trying to block strikes from the officers, attempting to “stop the punches
from going to [his] head.” (Tr. 1446). He felt punches to the head and hits to his body. (Tr.
After receiving a couple of punches, he passed out. (Tr. 1445). The next thing Kenville
recalls was waking up in the hospital where a nurse was stitching up his ear; he had sustained a
tear to his left ear requiring five sutures. (Tr. 1445).
Kenville stated that, during the incident, he never punched or kicked any officer. (Tr.
1447). He did not fight with any officer. (Tr. 1459). He weighed 140 pounds on the date of the
incident. (Tr. 1497). As a result of the incident, he feels “scared, threatened most of the time”
when he sees police officers and stays away from police. (Tr. 1460). He moved out of state
shortly after the incident. (Tr. 1461).
Testimony of Elizabeth Edwards
Elizabeth Edwards, mother of Kenville and Fabian, testified that she saw the officers
bringing Kenville down to the back porch. (Tr. 1381). She stated that the officers “just dropped
him on the floor on the back porch.” (Tr. 1381). Elizabeth Edwards further testified that she
took several photos the day after the incident, and other photos several weeks after. (Tr. 1381).
She photographed the third floor kitchen floor, the stairs, and the back porch. (Tr. 1382-84).
Testimony of Officer May
Officer May testified that he and Officer Cornell initially entered the Edwards’s property
to investigate and “quell the situation.” (Tr. 1752). While the officers were on the front porch
asking Fabian for his identification, Kenville came onto the porch. (Tr. 1753). Officer May
asked Kenville if he lived there and Kenville said he did. (Tr. 1753). When he asked Kenville to
step off of the porch, Kenville said “make me” and “balled up his fists in a, like, kind of defiant
type manner.” (Tr. 1753). Officer May described this as a “pre-attack indicator,” a sign a
suspect exhibits before engaging in a fight or attack. (Tr. 1754). Officer May testified that, at
that point, he informed Kenville he was under arrest and attempted to cuff him by trying to grab
his left hand. (Tr. 1755). Officer May stated that Kenville pulled his hand away and then
pushed Officer May and struck him in the torso; Officer May thought he was being attacked.
(Tr. 1756). He and Kenville were struggling with each other. (Tr. 1756). Officer May denied
putting Kenville into a choke hold, but said it was possible that his arm went around Kenville’s
head or neck because of Kenville’s resistance. (Tr. 1757).
Officer May further testified that, at some point, he released Kenville and gave Kenville a
burst of pepper spray in the face. (Tr. 1760). He denied pushing Kenville. (Tr. 1760). After the
pepper spray was used, Kenville went upstairs into the apartment. (Tr. 1761). Officer May went
to assist Officer Cornell, who was restraining Fabian Edwards, and then went upstairs after
Kenville. (Tr. 1762). He took a back stairway to the third floor and found the rear door to the
third floor apartment to be open. (Tr. 1766). Officer May entered the third floor apartment and
observed Kenville by the sink with the water running. (Tr. 1766). He testified that Kenville
“step[ped] back from the sink kind of like in a fighting stance.” (Tr. 1767). Officer May
perceived this as another “pre-attack indicator.” (Tr. 1767). Officer May then grabbed Kenville
around the waist and brought him to the ground. (Tr. 1768). He tried to control Kenville’s
hands to handcuff him. (Tr. 1768). Officer Baumgarten, who had recently arrived on the scene,
was behind Officer May trying to control Kenville’s legs. (Tr. 1768). Officer May testified that
because Kenville was resisting being handcuffed, he “administer[ed] two punches to his head in
[a] controlled pain compliance technique.” (Tr. 1768). While Kenville was “temporarily
stunned,” the officers were able to get him into handcuffs. (Tr. 1768). The officers then carried
Kenville downstairs to an ambulance. (Tr. 1770). Officer May stated that he held Kenville’s
torso and Officer Baumgarten held Kenville’s feet. (Tr. 1704). They carried him from the third
floor to the first floor, face down. (Tr. 1704). They carried him down the back stairwell, but did
not drop him on the back porch. (Tr. 1771). Officer May did note that Kenville had a laceration
to his ear but did not observe any dripping blood. (Tr. 1703, 1772).
Testimony of Officer Baumgarten
When Officer Baumgarten arrived on the scene, he went up the stairs to the third floor
apartment. (Tr. 1780). When he got to the third floor, the first thing he observed was Officer
May bringing Kenville to the ground. (Tr. 1781). He did not see Kenville take a “fighting
stance.” (Tr. 1781). At no point on the third floor did he see Kenville punch or kick an officer.
(Tr. 1782). Officer Baumgarten testified that he saw that Kenville was bleeding from the ear but
did not observe blood on the floor. (Tr. 1783). He testified that four officers carried Kenville
down the stairs, and did not drop him on the back porch. (Tr. 1784). The officers brought
Kenville to a police car to secure him and then notified emergency medical services that Kenville
needed medical attention. (Tr. 1785).
Testimony of Gerardo Paulino
Gerardo Paulino testified that he works in his father’s store, Paulino’s Grocery Store.
(Tr. 1328). He knows of Kenville and Fabian Edwards as customers. (Tr. 1329, 1330). On June
14, 2012, he recalled seeing Fabian almost falling as he came into the store, but did not actually
see if Fabian was pushed. (Tr. 1332, 1334). He did see a police officer behind Fabian. (Tr.
Kenville’s medical records
Ambulance records from June 14, 2012 indicate that Kenville was found lying on the
porch. (Ex. 38). He was alert to verbal stimuli and was disoriented with incoherent speech. (Ex.
38). There was bleeding from the head/face. (Ex. 38). There was swelling to the face and head
and a small laceration to the left earlobe. (Ex. 38).
Kenville was admitted to Hartford Hospital on June 14, 2012. (Ex. 39). Emergency
medical services stated that the patient was unresponsive upon their arrival to the scene. (Ex.
39). His diagnoses were laceration and closed head injury. (Ex. 39). Kenville was given five
sutures to close a laceration on his left ear. (Ex. 39).
Kenville had a follow up visit to Hartford Hospital on June 19, 2012. (Ex. 41). He was
diagnosed with post-concussive syndrome and a closed head injury. (Ex. 41).
A. Officer May’s Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law
Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows for the entry of judgment as a
matter of law if a jury returns a verdict for which there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 50. “A district court may not grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law
unless the evidence is such that, without weighing the credibility of the witnesses or otherwise
considering the weight of the evidence, there can be but one conclusion as to the verdict that
reasonable [persons] could have reached.” This Is Me, Inc. v. Taylor, 157 F.3d 139, 142 (2d Cir.
1998) (internal quotations marks omitted). The standard under Rule 50(b) is not one of strength
or weakness of the evidence; rather, “the evidence must be such that a reasonable juror would
have been compelled to accept the view of the moving party.” Id. (internal quotation marks
omitted) (emphasis added). Thus, Officer May’s motion may not be granted unless he can
(1) there is such a complete absence of evidence supporting the verdict that the
jury’s findings could only have been the result of sheer surmise and conjecture, or
(2) there is such an overwhelming amount of evidence in favor of the movant that
reasonable and fair minded [persons] could not arrive at a verdict against [him].
Galdieri-Ambrosini v. Nat’l Realty & Dev. Corp., 136 F.3d 276, 289 (2d Cir. 1998). In
determining whether judgment as a matter of law is appropriate, “the court must draw all
reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party,3 and it may not make credibility
With an apparent disregard for the relevant legal standard, defense counsel’s motion presents
the facts in the light most favorable to Officer May. Defense counsel’s law firm has, once
before, been reminded by a court of the proper legal standard. See Aczel v. Labonia, 92
determinations or weigh the evidence.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prod., Inc., 530 U.S.
133, 150 (2000).
Officer May’s motion raises numerous arguments, which the Court will address in turn.
1. The jury’s finding that Officer May used excessive force
Officer May first argues that the jury could not have reasonably found that he used
excessive force against Kenville Edwards. In making this argument, Officer May’s brief breaks
down the incident into a series of events. The Court, however, declines to take such an
approach. What is critical here is not whether one act or another constituted excessive force, but
that the jury found that the force used under the circumstances was unreasonable. See
Rasmussen v. City of New York, 766 F. Supp. 2d 399, 404 (E.D.N.Y. 2011) (declining to grant
summary judgment on one act in an excessive force case, explaining that “the jury will be
required to determine whether excessive force was used to effectuate the arrest in the whole
context in which it happened; it will not be asked to slice it into individual pieces to determine
whether any of those pieces standing alone constituted excessive force.”). Further, as explained
more fully below, in this particular case it is not necessary to divide the interaction into separate
components in order to decide whether Officer May is entitled to qualified immunity.
Accordingly, the Court will consider the incident as a whole when determining whether the
jury’s liability finding has a sufficient evidentiary basis.
The Fourth Amendment prohibits the use of excessive force by a police officer in
effecting an arrest. The determination of whether an officer’s use of force is reasonable
Fed.App’x 17 (2d Cir. 2004) (where the Second Circuit noted that counsel’s brief in support of
appeal of the district court’s denial of it motion for summary judgment was “glaringly replete
with [their] own versions of the events.” ). Perhaps, after a second reminder, the message will
“requires a careful balancing of the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual’s Fourth
Amendment interests against the countervailing governmental interests at stake.” Graham v.
Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989). The law is clear that some degree of force is permitted in
effectuating a lawful arrest; thus, “not every push or shove, even if it may later seem unnecessary
in the peace of a judge’s chambers, violates the Fourth Amendment.” Id. (citation and internal
quotation marks omitted). The question is whether the officer’s use of force was objectively
reasonable. Id. at 397. The reasonableness test “requires careful attention to the facts and
circumstances of each particular case, including the severity of the crime at issue, whether the
suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is
actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.” Id. at 396. The officers’ actions
must be objectively reasonable “in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without
regard to their underlying intent or motivation.” Id. at 397. “In sum, the ‘standard’ to be applied
in determining whether ‘the amount of force’ used exceeded the amount that was ‘necessary’ in
the particular circumstances is ‘reasonableness at the moment.’” Rogoz v. City of Hartford, 796
F.3d 236, 247 (2d Cir. 2015) (citing Graham, 490 U.S. at 396-97).
As explained above, in excessive force cases, the jury need not “dissect a police
encounter into its separate components… or view each specific act taken by police officers in
isolation.” Rickettes v. Turton, No. 12-CV-6427(SMG), 2015 WL 3868070, at *6 (E.D.N.Y.
June 23, 2015) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). What the jury must do is “pay
careful attention to the facts and circumstances of the incident and determine whether, in light of
the totality of the circumstances, the officers acted reasonably.” (Id.) (internal quotation marks
and citation omitted).
Here, the evidence is such that a reasonable fact-finder would not be compelled to accept
Officer May’s version of events. This case centers on credibility. Kenville Edwards and Officer
May gave conflicting accounts of what happened on June 14, 2012. In general terms, Kenville
maintains that he was never informed he was under arrest, and that he did not offer any
resistance against Officer May except to defend himself from Officer May’s strikes. Officer
May, in contrast, testified that he did inform Kenville that he was under arrest, and that Kenville
actively resisted arrest and displayed “pre-attack indicators” until Officer May used a pain
compliance technique upon him. Officer May does make clear that he struck Kenville twice in
the head when they were in the third floor apartment. These punches occurred after Kenville had
been sprayed with pepper spray, and while another officer was holding Kenville’s legs. Officer
May testified that the two strikes were delivered as a pain compliance technique in accordance
with his training.
First, Officer May argues that since the jury in the first trial found in favor of Officer
Baumgarten on Kenville’s excessive force claims against that officer, no reasonable jury could
find that Officer May’s use of force on the third floor was unreasonable. This argument is
premised on defense counsel interpreting the first jury’s verdict as commensurate with a finding
that the force the officers used was reasonable. As the Court has already pointed out to defense
counsel on several occasions, the first jury’s verdict cannot be interpreted in such a manner.
Rather, what the first jury determined was that Kenville did not prove by a preponderance of the
evidence that Officer Baumgarten used excessive force against him. This is by no means a
rational argument that no reasonable jury could find that Officer May’s use of force was
Next, Officer May appears to argue that because the force used was a technique he has
been trained to employ, that the strikes administered on the third floor were necessarily
reasonable. Such an argument confounds logic. That a certain technique may be valid in some
situations does not, of course, mean that it is valid in every instance. Under certain
circumstances, in accordance with their training, police officers are allowed to use deadly force.
It would be absurd to argue, however, that using deadly force is reasonable in any circumstance
simply because it is in accordance with an officer’s training. Likewise, that a suspect may be
resisting arrest does not give an officer unfettered license to use any amount of force. While an
officer may be justified in using “some degree of force” against a resisting suspect, the officer
may not “use force without limit.” Sullivan v. Gagnier, 225 F.3d 161 (2d Cir. 2000) (emphasis
in original). Rather, “the force used by the officer must be reasonably related to the nature of the
resistance and the force used, threatened, or reasonably perceived to be threatened against the
officer.” Id. Here, even taking the facts in May’s favor – the incorrect legal standard that
defense counsel proposes – a reasonable jury could find that two strikes to the head was
excessive in relation to the goal of getting this particular suspect to comply with attempts to
place him in handcuffs under the circumstances.
To the extent Officer May argues that the jury’s verdict is unreasonable because
Kenville’s injuries are inconsistent with the level of force he claimed was used against him, that
argument cannot prevail. It is clear that even a slight injury will not preclude a jury’s finding
that a challenged use of force was unreasonable. See Robison v. Via, 821 F.2d 913, 924 (2d Cir.
1987) (finding that summary judgment may not be granted in defendant’s favor simply because
the plaintiff’s injury was not serious, reasoning that “[i]f the force used was unreasonable and
excessive, the plaintiff may recover even if the injuries inflicted were not permanent or severe.”);
Felmine v. City of New York, No. 09-CV-3768 CBA JO, 2011 WL 4543268, at *19 (E.D.N.Y.
Sept. 29, 2011) (“The law of this circuit … does not appear to place a demanding requirement on
excessive force plaintiffs to demonstrate injury.”). Further, there was objective medical evidence
documenting Kenville’s injuries: a laceration, disorientation at the scene, and diagnoses of a
closed head injury and post-concussive syndrome are sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to
credit Kenville’s testimony.
In all, a reasonable jury would not have been compelled to accept Officer May’s version
of events regarding the use of force. The jury’s liability finding will stand.
Admitted at trial were several photographs of the Edwards’s home showing what
appeared to be drops of blood on the floor. Officer May challenges the admission of these
exhibits, arguing that no reasonable jury could have found that they showed Kenville’s blood as
a result of the incident. Specifically, Officer May argues that the photographs were not properly
authenticated and that any testimony that the photographs did in fact depict blood amounted to
The Court finds that the photographs were properly authenticated. “Federal Rule of
Evidence 901(a) requires that an item of evidence be ‘authenticated’ through introduction of
evidence sufficient to warrant a finding that the item is what the proponent says it is.” Crawford
v. Tribeca Lending Corp., 815 F.3d 121, 126 (2d Cir. 2016). Authentication under the rule is not
“a particularly high hurdle, and is satisfied if sufficient proof has been introduced so that a
reasonable juror could find in favor of authenticity or identification.” Id. (internal quotation
marks omitted) (citation omitted). Kenville’s testimony easily meets this standard: When
Kenville was asked about photographic evidence relating to the incident, he pointed out to the
jury what in the photographs he contended was blood. He stated that he believed the pictures
showed his blood because they were of his apartment and there was no blood there before the
incident, and when he came back from the hospital after the incident the blood was there. He
testified that the pictures fairly and accurately reflect what he recalled seeing the day he returned
from the hospital. Further, Elizabeth Edwards testified that she took the photographs after the
incident. In addition to the photographs being properly authenticated, a reasonable jury could
find that they depicted blood without resorting to speculation. The objective medical evidence
shows that Kenville needed five sutures to the ear as a result of the incident. And, emergency
medical services records note that Kenville had controlled bleeding at the scene.
3. Compensatory Damages
Next, Officer May posits that the jury could not have reasonably awarded compensatory
damages because Kenville did not meet his burden of proving facts that allowed the jury to arrive
at the award with reasonable certainty.
This argument must be rejected. Kenville did provide testimony that would allow the
jury to award him compensatory damages. He spoke of the emotional impact the situation had
on him, including his fear of police. Also admitted into evidence were medical records showing
a closed head injury and a laceration requiring sutures as a result of the incident. There was also
a diagnosis of post-concussion syndrome after the incident. Given this evidence, the jury could
make an award of compensatory damages without resulting to sympathy or bias or speculation.
In the Reply brief, defense counsel appears to ask for remittitur of the compensatory
damages award. Since this point only appears in the Reply, it is untimely and will not be
considered by the Court. See Johnson & Johnson v. Guidant Corp., 525 F. Supp. 2d 336, 359
(S.D.N.Y. 2007) (“Arguments first raised in reply memoranda are not properly considered.”)
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Even more, the Reply brief fails to cite a case
that would justify remittitur in this instance, and instead asks the Court to apply an incorrect
legal standard; the Court is not at liberty to adjust a jury’s award of damages to an amount it
deems “fair and reasonable,” as defense counsel entreats. If that was the standard, the Court
could entertain reducing the award; the law is clear, however, that compensatory damages can be
reduced only when “the award is so high as to shock the judicial conscience and constitute a
denial of justice.” Mathie v. Fries, 121 F.3d 808, 813 (2d Cir. 1997). That is not the case here,
and defense counsel has not made a cogent argument otherwise. The compensatory damages
award will stand.
4. Punitive Damages
Officer May also argues that the jury could not have reasonably awarded punitive
damages. 4 Again, it is not until the Reply brief that defense counsel asks for remittitur, which
would have been the client’s strongest position. While this argument is untimely, see Johnson &
Johnson, 525 F. Supp. 2d at 359, the Court can, sua sponte, offer remittitur. See U.S. ex rel.
Maris Equip. Co. v. Morganti, Inc., 163 F. Supp. 2d 174, 191 (E.D.N.Y. 2001), aff’d sub
nom. Morganti Inc. v. Liberty Bond Serv., Inc., 67 F. App’x 68 (2d Cir. 2003); see also Cotto v.
City of Middletown, 158 F. Supp. 3d 67, 89 (D. Conn. 2016) (“Although the defendants did not
formally object to the amount of punitive damages awarded, [the court] may review the size of
the award for excessiveness and sua sponte offer remittitur as an alternative to a new trial.”).5
While the Court may have thought twice about awarding punitive damages in this case, the
decision to award them was for the jury, and not the Court, to make. Here, as set forth below,
under the relevant standards for evaluating an award of punitive damages, a reasonable jury
could have awarded them.
Interestingly, defense counsel here was also defense counsel in the Cotto case. There, too,
defense counsel failed to object to the amount of punitive damages awarded and the district
“Punitive damages are available in a § 1983 action ‘when the defendant’s conduct is
shown to be motivated by evil motive or intent, or when it involves reckless or callous
indifference to the federally protected rights of others.’” Lee v. Edwards, 101 F.3d 805, 808 (2d
Cir. 1996) (citing Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30, 56 (1983)). “If a district court finds that a verdict
is excessive, it may order a new trial, a new trial limited to damages, or, under the practice of
remittitur, may condition a denial of a motion for a new trial on the plaintiff’s accepting damages
in a reduced amount.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). When evaluating
whether an award of punitive damages is excessive, courts must keep in mind the purpose of
punitive damages: “to punish the defendant and to deter him and others from similar conduct in
the future.” Id. at 809 (citation omitted). There are three factors courts should consider when
evaluating the excessiveness of a punitive damages award: (1) the degree of reprehensibility of
the defendant’s conduct; (2) the ratio of punitive damages to the plaintiff’s actual harm; and (3)
the difference between the award and awards imposed in comparable cases. BMW of N. Am.,
Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559, 575 (1996).
Reprehensibility is “perhaps the most important” factor in assessing a punitive damage
award. Lee, 101 F.3d at 809 (citing Gore, 517 U.S. at 577-79). There are “aggravating factors”
that are “associated with particularly reprehensible conduct” and contribute to the sense that
“some wrongs are more blameworthy than others.” Id. (citing Gore, 517 U.S. at 577-59.) These
factors include “(1) whether a defendant’s conduct was violent or presented a threat of violence,
(2) whether a defendant acted with deceit or malice as opposed to acting with mere negligence,
court, sua sponte, offered remittitur. They did not learn from that experience, and once again a
court has to do what counsel should have done.
and (3) whether a defendant has engaged in repeated instances of misconduct.” Id. (citing Gore,
517 U.S. at 577-79).
Crediting Kenville’s version of the incident, Officer May engaged in conduct sufficient to
justify an award of punitive damages. The conduct was clearly violent: Officer May punched
Kenville Edwards in the head twice with such force that Kenville Edwards was diagnosed with
post-concussion syndrome. A reasonable jury could have found that level of force excessive
under the circumstances. And, after two punches to Kenville’s head, Officer May, along with
other officers, carried Kenville face-down down three flights of stairs. In addition, taking the
facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the officers dropped Kenville, face down, on the
porch in front of his mother. This behavior, which shows a deliberate indifference to the medical
needs of Kenville Edwards, goes beyond mere negligence. Thus, the first Gore factor is
The second guidepost considers “the ratio of the punitive damages award to the
compensatory award, and consider whether that ratio is reasonable in the circumstances of the
case.” Payne v. Jones, 711 F.3d 85, 102 (2d Cir. 2013). When a plaintiff in a Section 1983 case
suffered “a very small injury” but the defendant acted reprehensibly, “the appropriate ratios can
be very high.” Id. When, on the other hand, “the harm to the plaintiff is substantial, and
sufficient to result in a compensatory award… even a single digit ratio can mean a high punitive
award.” Id. at 102-03 (noting that in cases where compensatory damages are substantial, a lesser
ratio can reach the “outermost limit” of reasonableness) (citation omitted).
Here, the ratio of the $275,000 punitive damages award to the $135,000 compensatory
damages award is 2.03 to 1. This award does not come near the “breathtaking 500 to 1” ratio the
Gore court found to “raise a suspicious judicial eyebrow.” Gore, 517 U.S. at 583.
Finally, the third guidepost requires consideration of awards in comparable cases. See
Cotto, 158 F.Supp.3d at 90. In O’Neill v. Krzeminski, 839 F.2d 9, 13-14 (2d Cir. 1988), the court
upheld a punitive damages award against two officers totaling $185,000, reasoning that on the
facts of the case – “the plaintiff, while handcuffed and unable to defend himself, was struck
repeatedly about the head by two law enforcement officers” – the award was not excessive. The
plaintiff there did not suffer any permanent physical injuries, but did suffer physical and
emotional distress as a result of the incident. Id. at 13.
In Lee, the court reduced a punitive damages award from $200,000 to $75,000, reasoning
that the award exceeded punitive damages awarded in other cases where plaintiff suffered
numerous and severe physical and psychological harms. Lee, 101 F.3d at 812-13. In Lee, the
plaintiff was beaten with a baton several times, and was subsequently treated for cuts and
contusions to the head. Id. at 807-08.
In DiSorbo v. Hoy, 343 F.3d 172, 189 (2d Cir. 2003), when the plaintiff had bruising, two
hematomas on her head, and psychological injuries as a result of an officer’s use of force against
her, the court reduced a $1.275 million punitive damages award to $75,000, finding that this
amount “more accurately reflects the severity of [the officer’s] acts under the Gore guideposts.”
Here, as in Lee and DiSorbo, an award of punitive damages of $75,000 more accurately
reflects the severity of the officer’s acts and the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries. Accordingly,
the Court orders remittitur in the amount of $200,000. If Kenville Edwards fails to accept a
punitive damages award of $75,000.00 within 30 days of this Ruling by filing a motion, the
Court will schedule a new trial on the question of punitive damages.6
If there is a new trial on punitive damages, the Court will admit evidence of Officer May’s
financial situation should he seek to introduce it. See Lee, 101 F.3d at 813 (recognizing that “one
purpose of punitive damages is deterrence, and that deterrence is directly related to what people
5. Qualified Immunity
Officer May maintains that he is entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law. An
officer is entitled to qualified immunity if “(1) his conduct does not violate a clearly established
constitutional right, or (2) it was objectively reasonable for the officer to believe his conduct did
not violate a clearly established constitutional right.” Hartline v. Gallo, 546 F.3d 95, 102 (2d
Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted). When, as here, a jury’s excessive force finding is
upheld, only the second prong of the qualified immunity inquiry is at issue: “whether a
reasonable officer faced with the same factual scenario that [the defendant officer] encountered
would have known that his use of force was unreasonable.” Adedeji v. Hoder, 935 F. Supp. 2d
557, 569 (E.D.N.Y. 2013).
For the same reasons a reasonable jury could find that the force used was excessive, the
Court cannot find that the force used was objectively reasonable for qualified immunity
purposes. See id. (explaining that the evidence supporting the jury’s finding of excessive force
also shows that a reasonable officer would not believe the force used was reasonable); see also
O’Bert ex rel. Estate of O’Bert v. Vargo, 331 F.3d 29, 37 (2d Cir. 2003) (citing Scott v.
Henrich, 39 F.3d 912, 914 (9th Cir.1994)) (“[i]n Fourth Amendment unreasonable force cases,
unlike in other cases, the qualified immunity inquiry is the same as the inquiry made on the
merits.”); Pub. Adm’r of Queens Cty. ex rel. Estate & Beneficiaries of Guzman v. City of New
York, No. 06 CIV. 7099, 2009 WL 498976, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 24, 2009) (explaining that, in
excessive force cases, “the answer to either the qualified immunity or the Fourth Amendment
question often resolves the other.”).
can afford to pay.”); DiSorbo, 343 F.3d at 189 (instructing the district court to admit evidence of
the officer’s ability to pay in the event there is a new trial on punitive damages).
As discussed above, it is undisputed that Officer May struck Kenville Edwards twice in
the head after he had been impaired by pepper spray, and while another officer was restraining
Kenville’s legs. Crediting Kenville’s testimony that he was not offering any resistance at that
point, a reasonable officer would have known that it would be excessive to use that level of force
in order to handcuff an unresisting, already impaired suspect, particularly when the ratio of
officers to suspects was two to one.
In addition, when there are facts in dispute as to the level of force used, judgment as a
matter of law should not be granted on a qualified immunity claim. See White v. Francis
Mcdermott, No. 3:08-CV-634 JBA, 2010 WL 4687620, at *2 (D. Conn. Nov. 4, 2010). “Where
the circumstances are in dispute, and contrasting accounts ... present factual issues as to the
degree of force actually employed and its reasonableness, a defendant is not entitled to judgment
as a matter of law on a defense of qualified immunity.” Mickle v. Morin, 297 F.3d 114, 122 (2d
Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
Here, since both parties present differing accounts of the incident, granting qualified
immunity on a motion for judgment as a matter of law would be inappropriate. See McLaurin v.
Falcone, No. 05-4849-CV, 2007 WL 247728, at *1 (2d Cir. Jan. 25, 2007); see also Schwartz v.
Town of Plainville, 483 F. Supp. 2d 192, 197 (D. Conn. 2007) (explaining that granting summary
judgment on qualified immunity grounds is not appropriate when there are facts in dispute that
are material to a determination of reasonableness of the force used) (citing Thomas v. Roach, 165
F.3d 137, 143 (2d Cir.1999)).
Finally, Officer May maintains that the Court should have served interrogatories on the
jury to resolve the qualified immunity inquiry. In order for this argument to be successful, it
must be premised on the case having factual issues dispositive of the availability of qualified
immunity. This case does not. The interrogatories that defense counsel proposed would have
done nothing but make the case vulnerable to an inconsistent verdict; none of the proposed
interrogatories were necessary for the Court to determine if there should be qualified immunity.
This was a straightforward excessive force case. The jury had to determine whether Officer
May’s use of force was reasonable under the circumstances. There were no factual intricacies
here that would influence whether or not qualified immunity was available. The case was simply
about whether Officer May’s use of force was reasonable. The jury resolved this question when
it found that Officer May used unreasonable force against Kenville Edwards. As such, Officer
May is not entitled to qualified immunity.7
After considering all of the arguments raised by Officer May, the Court concludes that
there is a legally sufficient evidentiary basis for the jury’s verdict. Accordingly, the Motion for
Judgment as a Matter of Law is denied.
B. Officer May’s Motion for a New Trial
Motions for a new trial are governed by Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
A new trial is granted when, “in the opinion of the district court, the jury has reached a seriously
erroneous result or ... the verdict is a miscarriage of justice.” DLC Mgmt. Corp. v. Town of Hyde
Park, 163 F.3d 124, 133 (2d Cir. 1998) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Officer
May’s motion can only be granted if “the jury’s verdict [was] against the weight of the
evidence.” Id. While the Court is free to weigh the evidence itself when evaluating a Rule 59
motion for a new trial, “a high degree of deference is accorded to the jury’s evaluation of witness
credibility.” ING Glob. v. United Parcel Serv. Oasis Supply Corp., 757 F.3d 92, 99 (2d Cir.
Officer May presents additional arguments regarding jury interrogatories in his Motion for a
New Trial. Those points are addressed below.
2014). Therefore, “jury verdicts should be disturbed with great infrequency.” Id. When a jury’s
verdict “is predicated almost entirely on the jury’s assessments of credibility, such a verdict
generally should not be disturbed except in an egregious case, to correct a seriously erroneous
result, or to prevent a miscarriage of justice.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citation
omitted). “The decision whether to grant a new trial under Rule 59 is committed to the sound
discretion of the trial court.” Claudio v. Mattituck-Cutchogue Union Free Sch. Dist., 955
F.Supp.2d 118, 142 (E.D.N.Y. 2013) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
Keeping these standards in mind, the Court will address Officer May’s arguments.
1. Jury Interrogatories
Officer May first claims that the Court erred by not allowing him to serve special jury
interrogatories. Defense counsel appears to argue that the submission of interrogatories to the
jury was required. This is not so. It is pellucidly clear that whether or not to submit special
interrogatories to the jury is “a matter [left] to the district court’s sound discretion.” Barksdale v.
Colavita, 506 Fed.Appx. 82, 85 (2d Cir. 2012). In addition, when a defendant’s proposed jury
interrogatories “would not, even if answered in his favor, have supplied a factual predicate for
qualified immunity,” the court has no duty to present interrogatories to the jury. Alla v. Verkay,
979 F.Supp.2d 349, 370 (E.D.N.Y. 2013).
The main case upon which Officer May relies in support of his argument that special
interrogatories were required is factually distinguishable. In Cowan v. Breen, 352 F.3d 756 (2d
Cir. 2003), at issue was the reasonableness of the use of deadly force. The parties presented
conflicting factual accounts as to whether the plaintiff threatened the officer with deadly force
and whether the officer could reasonably believe he was in danger. Id. at 759-60. As the Cowan
court explained, in that case the excessive force and qualified immunity analyses were distinct:
excessive force looks at whether there was a constitutional violation; qualified immunity “looks
at an officer’s mistake as to what the law requires.” Id. at 762. When a factual scenario involves
an officer alleging his force was in response to being in significant danger, the officer must show
“his belief that his conduct was lawful was reasonable” in order to be entitled to qualified
immunity.” Id. (emphasis in original). The court explained that when excessive force and
qualified immunity determinations involve overlapping factual disputes, it recommends that
interrogatories on “key factual disputes” be presented to the jury. Id. at 764. In Cowan, the jury
would need to determine whether the plaintiff drove a vehicle at the officer, whether the officer
was in a “zone of danger,” and whether the officer could have gotten out of the way instead of
using lethal force. Id. The key factual disputes were directly tied to whether the officer was
entitled to qualified immunity.
Jury interrogatories can be useful when there are “factual disputes overlapping the
excessive force and qualified immunity issues that the jury must find.” Stephenson v. Doe, 332
F.3d 68, 81 (2d Cir. 2003). In Stephenson, there was a dispute over whether an officer gave
warning to the plaintiff before shooting him in the back, whether the plaintiff was armed, and
whether the officer actually believed the plaintiff was armed. Id. The court found these to be
“key factual disputes that may affect the resolution of the qualified immunity issue.” Id.
The instant case does not present such factual scenarios necessitating the use of special
interrogatories. As explain above, this was a straightforward excessive force case; there were no
factual intricacies that would influence whether or not qualified immunity was available. Unlike
Cowan and Stephenson, there were no key factual disputes that were directly tied to whether
Officer May is entitled to qualified immunity. In fact, Officer May’s testimony established what
could very well be the basis for the jury’s excessive force finding. Even if the jury believed that
Kenville was offering some resistance while on the floor in the third floor apartment, the jury
still could have found that the force Officer May employed in response was unreasonable. Since
defense counsel had not proposed a jury interrogatory that would address a factual dispute
dispositive of qualified immunity, and in light of the deference accorded to district courts in
determining whether or not special jury interrogatories are appropriate, the lack of them here will
not be the basis for a new trial.
2. Evidentiary Rulings
Next, Officer May avers that the Court erred in several of its evidentiary rulings.
a. Evidence of use of force to gain entry to the third floor apartment
The jury heard some evidence that police officers used force to gain entry into Kenville
Edwards’s third floor apartment. Officer May argues that this evidence was not relevant.
Contrary to Officer May’s contentions, this testimony is relevant. How the officers behaved is at
the heart of this case. The manner of entry to the third floor apartment is part of that. Officer
May presented his side: that the door to the third floor apartment was open. The jury was
entitled to hear the conflicting testimony and resolve it.
Defense counsel also posits that admission of this evidence was improper character
evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b). This argument is utterly unavailing. Rule
404(b) disallows evidence of “a crime, wrong, or other act … to prove a person’s character in
order to show that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character.”
Fed. R. Evid. 404. Testimony about officers breaking down the door to the third floor apartment
during the incident that gave rise to Kenville’s excessive force claim does not, by any stretch of
the imagination, constitute other act evidence. The testimony was directly relevant to the actions
of the officers during the incident in question. It cannot possibly be construed as improper
character evidence. C.f. United States v. Williams, 900 F.2d 823, 825 (5th Cir. 1990) (explaining
that when an action and the crime charged are “inextricably intertwined,” the action is not
extrinsic evidence governed by Rule 404(b)).
To the extent Officer May argues that admitting testimony of use of force to gain entry to
the third floor apartment confused the jury, the Court is assured that this was not the case. The
jury instructions make clear that the only claim against Officer May was an excessive force
claim and that there were no allegations of unlawful entry.
b. Evidence of Fabian being pushed
The jury also heard testimony that Fabian Edwards was pushed into Paulino’s by Officer
May. Since Fabian Edwards did not have a claim against Officer May, this testimony was not
harmful with respect to Kenville Edwards’s claim against Officer May and will not form the
basis for a new trial. As to relevance, the alleged push into the store was what set in motion the
interaction between the parties. The officers entered the Edwards’s property in response to
Fabian’s yelling at them. Fabian testified that he shouted at the officers about being pushed.
The jury was entitled to hear the context leading up to the incident. There was no risk of unfair
prejudice to Officer May: the jury instructions made clear that only Kenville – and not Fabian –
had an excessive force claim against Officer May. In addition, the testimony did not constitute
improper character evidence. As set forth above, the alleged push was a part of this incident, and
is not “other act” evidence. Finally, it is worth noting that despite the evidence being admitted,
Fabian Edwards did not prevail on his claim.
c. Preclusion of evidence regarding Paulino’s Grocery Store
Officer May also takes issue with the Court’s decision to sua sponte preclude Officer
Cornell from testifying that Paulino’s Grocery Store had been subjected to a narcotics warrant
prior to the date of the incident. He argues that this testimony was relevant to show that Gerardo
Paulino was biased against the Hartford Police Department and would call into question his
testimony in this case.
The trial court has control over the evidence presented at trial and may exclude evidence
even absent a party’s objection to it. See United States v. Clarke, 390 F. Supp. 2d 131, 135 (D.
Conn. 2005), aff’d, 257 F. App’x 361 (2d Cir. 2007) (explaining that the trial judge has “not
only” the right, but the “duty … to see that only proper and relevant evidence is admitted.”)
(citation omitted). Any evidence of a prior narcotics warrant would be irrelevant and possibly
inadmissible hearsay. While the Court was surprised by plaintiffs’ counsel’s failure to seek to
preclude the evidence, the Court was well within its right to exclude it sua sponte: an alleged
search warrant served on a non-party at some point in the past and entirely unrelated to the
matters in the instant case is irrelevant. And, since there is no indication Gerardo Paulino was
involved in any past interactions between law enforcement and his father’s store, any argument
that the precluded evidence was necessary to show his bias against police is speculative. Finally,
this evidence related to Fabian’s claim; as noted above, Fabian lost.
d. Deposition Designations
Officer May raises several issues regarding deposition testimony admitted at trial. Three
of the plaintiffs’ witnesses were unavailable, and thus testified at trial via deposition
designations. Each of these witnesses had executed an affidavit regarding the incident. When
they were deposed, the questioning included inquiries pertaining to the affidavits, and the jury
heard some of these questions. To alleviate any confusion, the Court gave the jury a limiting
And I should just mention what we call a limiting instruction. During the read
back in this testimony from other occasions there’s going to be reference to
affidavits. And the affidavits were used as a way to have the witnesses explain
what happened. Only the witnesses’ answers to the questions can be considered
evidence. The affidavits that are referred to are not evidence in themselves and
should not be considered as evidence. Only what the witness says in response to
the questions is evidence.
(Tr. 1325-26). Officer May claims that the affidavits are not substantive evidence, were not
properly authenticated, and were inadmissible as prior inconsistent statements. The Court’s
limiting instruction moots all of these arguments.
Officer May additionally claims that the deposition designations read into evidence
contained improper leading questions. He does not, however, make any claim that the leading
questions resulted in a miscarriage of justice or in any way satisfy the legal standards for
granting a new trial. Accordingly, this argument is rejected.
e. Photographic Evidence
Again, Officer May challenges the admission of photographs allegedly depicting blood at
the scene of the incident. This argument was addressed above, and for the same reasons, will not
be grounds for a new trial.
f. Preclusion of Kenville Edward’s prior medical records
Next, Officer May avers that the Court erred in precluding Kenville Edwards’s prior
medical records. He claims, without any support or citation to the record, that these records
show that Kenville suffered prior physical and emotional injuries similar to those claimed in this
case. Since this argument is completely unsubstantiated in the motion, and upon the Court’s
review of the evidence has no basis in fact, it will be rejected.
g. Evidence of officers’ statements during the incident
Finally, Officer May challenges the Court’s ruling to admit testimony of racial epithets
and profanity made by the defendant officers.8 He avers that the statements were not relevant to
an excessive force inquiry and were highly prejudicial, but does not point to any particular point
in the record displaying an allegation of Officer May’s use of inappropriate language or make
any specific argument as to how that allegation resulted in unfair prejudice. Speaking in
generalities, then, the Court finds that any such statements are relevant to an excessive force
While an officer’s use of profanity, alone, is insufficient to establish a claim of excessive
force, see Pina v. City of Hartford, No. 07-CV-0657JCH, 2009 WL 1231986, at *8 (D. Conn.
Apr. 29, 2009), that is not the case here. Rather, courts have found that an officer’s use of
profanity or racial slurs are relevant to the overall objective reasonableness of an excessive force
inquiry. See Doye v. Colvin, No. CV408-174, 2008 WL 5749909, at *3 (S.D. Ga. Dec. 4,
2008), report and recommendation adopted, No. CIV. A. 408-174, 2009 WL 936294 (S.D. Ga.
Apr. 7, 2009) (noting that while claims of verbal discrimination themselves are not cognizable
under Section 1983, the allegations are relevant to an excessive force claim); Seals v. Mitchell,
No. CV 04-3764 NJV, 2011 WL 1399245, at *13 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 13, 2011) (explaining that
evidence of an officer’s racial slurs were relevant to the plaintiff’s excessive force claim “to
assess the objective reasonableness of [the officer’s] use of force and to [the plaintiff’s] request
for punitive damages.”).
Further, any such statements are not hearsay. See Fincher v. Cty. of Westchester, 979 F.
Supp. 989, 1004–05 (S.D.N.Y. 1997) (reasoning that records containing racial epithets were not
The Court also ruled that any such statements made by non-party officers would be
hearsay “because they are not relied on to prove the truth of the matter asserted, but only to show
that the statements were made.”). Rather, any such statements would be non-hearsay admissions
by a party opponent. See id. (citing Fed.R.Evid. 801(d)(2)(A)).
Finally, the jury instructions clearly state that verbal abuse or rudeness do not in and of
themselves constitute a constitutional violation. [Doc. # 165 at 14]. There is no error.
3. Jury Instructions
Officer May also challenges the Court’s refusal to include some of his proposed
instructions in the jury charge. Specifically, the Court excluded the following proposed
1) “[v]erbal harassment or threats alone do not constitute a violation of any federally
protected right, including the Fourth Amendment, and may not form the basis of the
plaintiffs’ claim for excessive force.”
2) “The reasonableness inquiry in an excessive force case is an objective one: the question is
whether the officer’s actions were objectively reasonable in light of the facts and
circumstances confronting him, without regard to his underlying intent or motivation. An
officer’s evil intentions will not make a Fourth Amendment violation out of an
objectively reasonable use of force; nor will an officer’s good intentions make an
objectively unreasonable use of force constitutional.”
3) “Citizens have both duties and rights. Some of my instructions to you concern certain
rights held by all citizens. However, citizens also have duties in a society based on laws.
Citizens are required to obey the lawful commands of a police officer while he or she is
performing his or her official duties. A person may not disregard or ignore an officer
while in the performance of his official duties and may be guilty of a crime for such
4) “A person does not have a right not to be handcuffed in the course of a particular arrest,
even if he does not resist or attempt to flee.”
5) “Use of force such as palm strikes, use of an arm bar, striking or use of a baton, has been
deemed reasonable under circumstances where suspects are kicking, flailing their arms,
struggling with officers, and/or resisting officers’ attempts to place them in handcuffs.”
A jury charge “is erroneous if the instruction misleads the jury as to the proper legal
standard, or it does not adequately inform the jury of the law.” Luciano v. Olsten Corp., 110
F.3d 210, 218 (2d Cir. 1997). When a jury charge is challenged, the court “reviews jury
the jury instructions as a whole,” and will “not upset a judgment because of an error
in jury instructions if the charge actually given was correct and sufficiently covered the essential
issues.” Id. (citing BAII Banking Corp. v. UPG, Inc., 985 F.2d 685, 696 (2d Cir.1993)). A new
trial shall not be granted unless, “taken as a whole, the jury instructions gave a misleading
impression or inadequate understanding of the law.” Id. If an instruction is erroneous,
a new trial will not be granted if the error was harmless. Romag Fasteners, Inc. v. Fossil, Inc.,
No. 3:10CV1827 JBA, 2014 WL 3895905, at *4 (D. Conn. Aug. 8, 2014) (citing United States v.
Bah, 574 F.3d 106, 114 (2d Cir. 2009)). “An error is harmless only if the court is convinced that
the error did not influence the jury’s verdict.” Id. (citing Gordon v. N.Y. City Bd. of Educ., 232
F.3d 111, 116 (2d Cir. 2000)).
As to the first proposed instruction, this instruction was not necessary in this case;
Kenville Edwards’s claim did not rest on verbal harassment or threats alone. In fact, it was
undisputed that Officer May used physical force. And, as set forth above, the jury instructions
explain that verbal abuse or rudeness do not in and of themselves amount to a constitutional
violation. [Doc. # 165 at 14]. Accordingly, the failure of the Court to include defense counsel’s
precise proposed language will not be grounds for a new trial.
The second proposed instruction was sufficiently addressed by the charge given to the
jury. The jury was instructed as follows:
It is not necessary for a plaintiff to prove that the defendants had any specific
intent to deprive him or her of a constitutional right in order to prevail. Instead, a
plaintiff is entitled to relief if the defendants intended the actions or inaction
which resulted in the violation of the plaintiff’s rights, or if the defendants acted
in reckless disregard of the plaintiff’s rights. An act is intentional if it is done
knowingly; that is, if it is done voluntarily and deliberately, and not because of
accident, mistake, negligence, or other innocent reasons. An act is done
recklessly if it is done in conscious disregard of its known probable consequences;
that is, not caring whether the plaintiff’s rights were being violated. On the other
hand, an officer’s good intentions will not make the use of excessive force
[Doc. # 165 at 16]. This language adequately informs the jury of the law. See Luciano, 110 F.3d
With respect to the third, fourth, and fifth proposed instructions, Officer May contends
that this trial involved a situation where a suspect was legally under arrest, but did not yield to
the commands of the officer, and so the officer needed to use a certain level of force to place him
into custody. The proposed instructions, Officer May argues, would have adequately informed
the jury that citizens are required to obey lawful commends of a police officer. What was at
issue in this case – and what the jury charge clearly addressed – what whether the force used in
light of the plaintiff’s resistance was reasonable. The charge makes clear that the use of force
must be proportionate to the resistance being offered. Specifically, the charge instructs as
The determination of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that
police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments – in circumstances
that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving – about the amount of force that is
necessary in a particular situation. Therefore, in examining the plaintiffs’ claim
that excessive force was used against them, you must look at the situation from
the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene at that moment, taking into
consideration all the circumstances which you find to have existed at the time, as
the officer reasonably could have perceived them to be. If an officer reasonably,
but mistakenly, believed that the amount of force used was necessary under the
circumstances, the officer would be justified in using more force than in fact was
needed. The question is whether the officer’s conduct was within a reasonable
range of appropriate police responses. It is the plaintiffs’ burden to prove that it
was not. The use of force by a police officer must be proportionate to any
resistance being encountered. The force used by the officer must be reasonably
related to the nature of the resistance and the force used, threatened, or reasonably
perceived to be threatened against the officer.
[Doc. # 165 at 15]. The instructions, as a whole, did not give a misleading impression of the law.
See Luciano, 110 F.3d at 218.
In all, the Court will not, in its sound discretion, order a new trial; the jury’s verdict is
simply not against the great weight of the evidence.
For the reasons stated above, Officer May’s Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law and
Motion for a New Trial are denied. The verdict in favor of Kenville Edwards is sustained. The
amount of punitive damages is reduced as stated above.
SO ORDERED, this 28th day of November, 2017, at Bridgeport, Connecticut.
/s/ William I. Garfinkel
WILLIAM I. GARFINKEL
United States Magistrate Judge
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