A federal court jury ruled Friday afternoon that a Williamsburg police officer used “excessive or unreasonable force” while arresting a Whitley County man in 2003, but that the officer didn’t commit “assault or battery” against the man.
The jury ordered Williamsburg Police Officer Brad Nighbert to pay $25,000 to Early Ray Bryant for “mental and physical pain and suffering” and $10,000 to Bryant’s wife, Clara for “loss of companionship and support.”
The jury did not assess any punitive damages, which are awards designed to punish a defendant and to discourage them from taking similar actions in the future.
The jury cleared two other officers, Detective Wayne Bird and Assistant Police Chief Denny Shelley, of wrongdoing. The jury found that neither Bird nor Shelley had the means or opportunity to prevent excessive force from being used.
“I have never received any official notice on the judgment,” said current Williamsburg Mayor Roddy Harrison late Monday afternoon. “When I do, I will meet with the city’s attorneys and decide what appropriate steps should be taken if any.”
Harrison said no internal police department investigation was conducted into the case because city officials feel there was no wrongdoing on Nighbert’s part.
“From everything I have heard about this case in the past – from when I was on the council and since I have been in the mayor’s office – there was no wrong doing on the officer’s part so we did not do an internal investigation on it,” Harrison said.
Harrison said he would anticipate the verdict being appealed.
Hamlin declined to comment on the matter.
The Bryant’s filed suit in April 9, 2003, against the city, its police department, former Mayor Bill Nighbert, and officers Brad Nighbert, Bird, Shelley, and Chief Don Hamlin. Bill Nighbert, who is currently acting Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary, is the father of Brad Nighbert.
The lawsuit alleged that on May 1, 2002, Early Bryant was driving a vehicle in Williamsburg when he became involved in a verbal altercation on a CB radio with a security guard at Firestone Inc.
Bryant stated in the lawsuit that he phoned the police department about the conduct of the security guard, and then stopped his vehicle at the gate of Firestone where the verbal exchange with the Firestone guard continued.
The lawsuit claimed that Bird told Bryant to stand back from the security guard, and that Early complied with the order.
The lawsuit alleged that Bryant complied with Bird’s order, and that Nighbert arrived at the scene, and “immediately began to severely beat” Bryant with his nightstick across the chest and back.
“Subsequently, he (Bryant) was forcefully placed into a headlock and then thrown to the ground upon his shoulder and handcuffed in such a manner as to cause severe lacerations across his wrists,” the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit alleged that Shelley and Bird failed to intervene, or prevent Nighbert’s conduct, which the lawsuit says they have an obligation to do.
The lawsuit named Hamlin and the city as the supervisors of the three officers.
Prior to trial, the judge dismissed Hamlin, Bill Nighbert, the city, and police department from the lawsuit.
Brad Nighbert charged Bryant with disorderly conduct, trespassing, and resisting arrest in connection with the incident.
On Bryant’s arrest citation, Brad Nighbert alleged that Bryant entered the Firestone premises trying to start a fight with a security guard, and that when police arrived Early started cursing and trying to fight the guard.
The citation further claims that Bryant had to be taken to the ground and physically restrained after pushing two different officers.
“Upon arriving at Firestone, this subject was parked and standing outside the guard shack. As Officer Bird approached the guard shack, this subject tried pushing through Officer Bird to fight. I then pushed this subject off Officer Bird. He shoved me back, and he was taken to the ground and restrained,” Brad Nighbert wrote in the arrest citation.
Judge Dan Ballou dismissed the charges on March 12, 2003, the day the case was scheduled to be tried.
Court dockets for that day indicate that the charges were dismissed without prejudice, which means the charges could be reinstated, and that in a joint motion all parties stipulated there was probable cause for the arrest.
In court papers, city officials denied that Nighbert hit Bryant with a nightstick.
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