Trying to capitalize on police brutality

By The SE Texas Record | Jan 22, 2011

We're not about to make a case for police brutality. We expect law enforcement officials to be even more courteous than ordinary citizens. We expect them to use force only when necessary, and deadly force only as a last resort. We expect them to keep their emotions in check and to be impervious to taunts and provocation.

We have no respect for Jefferson County Correctional Officers Rodney Cole and Johnny Vickery and we're glad to see both of them forced to resign. We were also glad to see the judgment go against them at the conclusion of a recent trial relating to their abuses.

But we do have a problem with the unrealistic size of the verdict.

Last week, a federal jury in Beaumont concluded that Cole and Vickery had viciously beat Christopher Roberts in April 2007 after he had been taken into custody for an outstanding traffic warrant. The beatings, before and after his booking, were captured by security cameras inside the Jefferson County Jail.

In 2008, Cole and Vickery were found guilty of official oppression and forced to resign from the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department. That same year, Roberts filed a civil suit against them.

The jury in that latter case ordered Cole to pay $566.91 for Roberts' medical treatment, and Cole and Vickery each to pay $101.25 for lost wages. That seems reasonable.

It also ordered Cole and Vickery each to pay $25,000 for Roberts' physical and emotional pain. That didn't seem extravagant considering the viciousness of the attacks.

But the jury also ordered Cole and Vickery each to pay Roberts $8 million in punitive damages. That's excessive and also, may act as an enticement for those seeking jackpot justice in other civil complaints.

Fortunately for taxpayers, the judge excluded Jefferson County as a defendant, so we're off the hook. Roberts intends to appeal that ruling since it's not likely that $16 million can be squeezed out of Cole and Vickery.

In the meantime, two abusive officers have been punished for their misdeeds and a victim of police brutality has been compensated in real terms. Getting millions of dollars from two out-of-work cops does not seem possible. We'll settle for that.

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