Jury Awards $7 million in Damages After 2 Madison Police Officers Used Unreasonable Force

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Two Madison police officers used unreasonable force when they shot and killed a 26-year-old woman who was pointing a gun at her head during a 2014 incident, a jury found Thursday, awarding her family $7 million in damages.

The six-woman, two-man jury deliberated for about 3½ hours before ruling in the federal civil lawsuit brought by the family of Ashley DiPiazza against the officers, Justin Bailey and Gary Pihlaja. Bailey is no longer with the department.

After further deliberations, jurors awarded the family $4 million in compensatory and $3 million in punitive damages.

The jury found that a third officer, Carey Leerek, who was a negotiator, bore no responsibility.

“The jury ruled loud and clear for justice for Ashley DiPiazza,” said her father, Joe DiPiazza, who embraced his wife, Tami, after the verdict was read.

Across the courtroom, the defendants, their friends and co-workers, sat in silence. Across town, Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, called the verdict “outrageous.”

“This sends a disconcerting message to officers because this will lead to second-guessing that puts officers at risk,” Palmer said. “That’s very unfortunate.”

Since it was a civil trial, the jury only needed to find that the claims made by the DiPiazza family against the officers were probably true rather than the higher burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal trial.

This was the third lawsuit brought against Madison police in recent years after a fatal shooting. Earlier this year, the family of Tony Robinson, 19, agreed to settle a civil rights lawsuit with the city’s insurance company for $3.35 million. Robinson was fatally shot after allegedly punching Officer Matt Kenny in a stairwell in 2015. A lawsuit brought by the family of Paul Heenan, who was fatally shot in 2012 by former Officer Stephen Heimsness, was settled for $2.3 million in 2015.

Madison Police Chief Mike Koval said in a statement that police officers “accept jury verdicts as a necessary part of respecting the process that is critically important to our criminal justice system. That said, the dynamics of rapidly evolving, highly stressful incidents involving guns is never easy and our officers are well-trained and versed in trying to resolve these sort of calls doing the best they can under the totality of the circumstances. I support our officers in (the DiPiazza) case.”

Koval also noted that an investigation by the state Department of Justice led Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne to clear the officers of any criminal liability and that an internal review by Madison police determined that the officers did not violate departmental policy.

DiPiazza’s family contended that DiPiazza, a forklift operator at Pitney Bowes in Madison who was described by friends and family as fun-loving and loyal, was shot without making any threats to hurt anybody or pointing the gun toward anybody but herself. The suit claimed DiPiazza’s constitutional rights against unreasonable searches and seizures were violated when Bailey and Pihlaja shot her 11 times inside her MacArthur Road apartment. It also alleged Leerek, who was negotiating with DiPiazza, did nothing to stop them.

The incident began after DiPiazza’s then-boyfriend contacted police to say that they had a relationship-ending argument and she had been drinking and was holed up in their apartment with his gun.

Shortly after police arrived, DiPiazza emerged from the bedroom with a gun pointed to her head as four officers planned to enter the apartment behind a protective shield. They were ordered to quickly retreat.

DiPiazza re-emerged, holding a gun to her head, about 30 minutes later and was shot by Bailey and Pihlaja as they stood near the front door of her apartment. Bailey had no cover other than his bullet-proof vest, and Pihlaja had some protection behind a shield that Leerek was behind.

For the full article visit: http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/courts/jury-awards-million-in-damages-after-finding-madison-police-officers/article_7afa930b-feb3-50c2-aa75-be6b11580fff.html

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Filming Cops
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Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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