THE CITY must cough up $50,000 to state lawmaker and Sheriff-elect Jewell Williams for injuries he received during an unlawful arrest and detention in March 2009 during a car stop in his North Philadelphia neighborhood, a federal jury said yesterday.
The former Temple University police officer is to assume the $118,000-a-year sheriff's job next month, which, ironically, involves the transport of prisoners, among other duties. Williams sued his soon-to-be employer in 2010, saying that officers applied "excessively tight handcuffs," causing him to sustain permanent and painful injuries to his hands during the arrest.
Williams was handcuffed, placed in a police cruiser and detained for 90 minutes after he inquired about the well-being of two elderly men - John Cornish and Carl Cutler - who had been frisked and illegally detained during the car stop. Cornish and Cutler, also parties to the lawsuit, settled their cases with the city earlier this year for $25,000 each.
At that time, Williams was offered $65,000 by the city to settle his complaint but turned down the offer and opted to take the case to trial.
Williams had no comment yesterday after the two-day trial.
Harriet Lessy, a spokeswoman for Williams, said: "The jury understood Williams' constitutional rights were violated and that his injuries were caused by the too tightly applied handcuffs that were unlawfully used to detain him, causing painful nerve damage to his hands."
Lessy said that the verdict was a "victory" for all Philadelphians.
City attorney Craig M. Straw ridiculed that assertion. "There was no victory for the plaintiff here. He was offered $65,000 prior to trial and declined it."
The city had stipulated on Dec. 8 that Williams' constitutional rights had been violated but disagreed on the nature and extent of his injuries.
During closing arguments yesterday, Paul Messing, Williams' attorney, said that Williams had a permanent disability - damage to a nerve that runs from the forearm to the base of the thumb - and that he was unable to open a jar, turn a door knob or grip a golf club without experiencing pain.
Messing urged jurors to award "very, very substantial" damages, adding, "Today is judgment day. We're here for justice."
Williams described the pain in testimony on Monday as being "like when you hit your funny bone," only the pain lasted longer.
But Straw cast doubt on his credibility. "What's important here is not what Mr. Williams says or does, but what he didn't do," Straw said.
He noted that Williams did not go to an emergency room after his unlawful arrest and detention in handcuffs, and then saw two doctors in April and May 2009.
Straw said that there was no evidence that Williams, despite his pain, saw any doctors or received any medical treatment after May 2009 until January 2011, when he visited an orthopedic surgeon who later became an expert witness in his case.
Messing said that the reason Williams didn't see any doctors was that there was nothing they could do for him, short of surgery, and there was no guarantee that even that would be successful.