The City of Syracuse is appealing a $1.5 million verdict awarded by a jury last year to the family of a man beaten by police.
Syracuse taxpayers are currently on the hook for more than $2.2 million in the case of Alonzo Grant, who was bloodied by two police officers when they arrested him in June 2014. The jury awarded Grant and his wife $1.5 million. A judge ordered the city to pay more than $600,000 in fees and expenses to Grant’s legal team.
Grant was arrested on June 28, 2014 after he called 911 for help with a family dispute. Officers Damon Lockett and Paul Montalto said Grant was “highly agitated” when they arrived at the home. They said Grant’s behaviors justified what became a violent arrest, in which Grant was punched multiple times and struck by the officers’ knees.
Grant was charged at the time with disorderly conduct, but District Attorney William Fitzpatrick dropped the charges, publicly announcing that Grant had done “nothing wrong.” Fitzpatrick testified on Grant’s behalf at trial.
Grant, 58, sued for wrongful arrest and excessive force. The jury sided with him after a nine-day trial in which 28 witnesses testified.
The legal bills could continue to add up for the City of Syracuse as it pursues an appeal.
Grant’s legal team, led by Charles Bonner, who is based in Sausalito, Calif., have already billed for more than $22,000 for post-trial work. If the city is unsuccessful in its appeal, it would likely have to pay some or all of those costs.
Syracuse was billed $88,838 by its own outside attorney, John Powers of Hancock Estabrook, who represented the city at trial. The city said he charged a discounted rate of $240 per hour. So far, just in-house city lawyer Todd Long is handling the appeal, according to court papers.
The city is fighting the verdict and the legal bills. It appealed the case to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals last week.
The city argues that U.S. District Court Judge David Hurd erred in allowing the jury to hear evidence of how Syracuse’s Citizen Review Board handled allegations pertaining to the case.
The Citizen Review Board is a city agency that investigates allegations of police misconduct, made up of appointees by the mayor and city council. The CRB reviewed Grant’s case prior to the lawsuit. Evidence of the review, and what the city did with the CRB’s recommendations, was introduced at trial. The City of Syracuse argues this was a “miscarriage of justice” that prejudiced the jury.
The city has also contested Grant’s legal bills.
Bonner and two attorneys working with him requested more than $1.5 million in legal fees and expenses. The city argued it should not have to pay for things like flights, hotels and meals that included a $400 victory lunch with bottles of wine, oysters, clams and lobster.
Judge Hurd agreed in part, lowering the bill to $639,226.50. Hurd noted that Bonner was a highly-regarded lawyer with expertise in representing plaintiffs in civil rights cases. He also noted it was “unreasonable” to bill the city for $400-plus meals and other superfluous costs. He determined Bonner should be paid $350 per hour, a standard rate for attorneys who work on federal cases in the Upstate New York region.
The City of Syracuse has asked a judge to “stay” the case during the appeals process. The city is asking that it not have to pay Grant and his attorneys until the appeal is decided. Syracuse would likely have to issue a bond to cover the expense of the award and attorneys’ fees, according to court papers.
It would cost the City of Syracuse about $33,000 to purchase a $2,219,226 bond through its insurance broker Haylor, Freyer & Coon Inc., court papers said. That cost could not be recovered if the city was successful in its appeal.
Julie McMahon, “Syracuse’s legal bill for police brutality case leaps to $2.2M as city continues fight”, https://www.syracuse.com/news/2019/03/syracuses-legal-bill-for-police-brutality-case-leaps-to-22m-as-city-continues-fight.html