Alexandria, VA – A jury has awarded $50,000 to a Northern Virginia landlord who was shot three times with a stun gun after sheriff’s duties wrongfully arrested him after a tenant complained.
Matthew Souter, 57, of The Plains, Virginia, was arrested at his home in November 2018 after a tenant at his 19th-century farmhouse claimed he violated a protective order he had received the day before.
Before the trial began in federal court Tuesday, a judge ruled that three Fauquier County sheriff’s deputies who arrested Sotter violated their constitutional rights.
The tenant claimed that Souter violated the protective order by shutting down his utilities, which Souter denied. But even if it did cut power, Judge TS Ellis III said that the simple language of the protective order only prevented the soter from committing acts of violence against the tenant, and that shutting down the utilities would not qualify as a violation.
As a result, this week’s jury trial focused solely on the question of what damages, if any, should be awarded to Souter.
The jury decided late Thursday to award a total of $50,000 in compensatory damages, and no punitive damages.
The authorities had argued that they should be held harmless; He noted that it was a magistrate who actually issued the arrest warrant, albeit at the request of a deputationist. And they said they were entitled to qualified immunity, which protects law enforcement officers from widespread levels of legal liability.
Ellis, however, stated that “qualified immunity is not for omissions,” and ruled as a matter of law that deputies infringed on the rights of sotters.
Outside the presence of the jury, Ellis told lawyers at the start of the trial, “If you have too much power, you have to be careful how you exercise that power.” “It was a mistake a law enforcement officer should not have made.”
Ellis also stated that it is established law that, based on decisions of the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals, that individuals are within their rights to resist unlawful arrest, and that false arrests can be used to effect Any force going is by definition an excessive force.
On the question of damages, the deputy’s attorney, Alexander Frankuzenko, asked the jurors to consider the potential threat facing the authorities as they weighed whether the deputy’s actions were unreasonable. There was an alert in the system that warned deputies to bring backup if they were called to Souter’s home, partly due to the 2015 misdemeanor he was convicted of brandishing a firearm.
One of the deputies, Andrew McCauley, testified that he used his Taser on Souter three times, and it was the first time in more than 10 years of duty that he had ever used it.
For his part, Souter said the arrest and Taser shots were the most excruciating pain he had ever experienced in his life. He said the deputy beat and manhandled him for about seven minutes, and that jurors saw pictures of his blood-soaked face after his arrest.
Souter also said that when officers came to arrest him, they did not give him any warning. He testified that he stepped out and gave a friendly greeting to the deputies. He said McCauley answered a question about the electricity in his home and held Souter’s hand before telling Souter that he was under arrest.
McCauley, in his testimony, agreed that was exactly what had happened, though he said that he quickly told Souter after getting his hands on him that he was under arrest.
Souter said that if officers had explained that he was under arrest, he would never have protested, even though he knew he had done nothing wrong.
“I wake up in a sweat,” Sauter told the jury. “I fear police officers now. Because of this I have lost a lot of respect for the police officers.”