A federal civil jury in Philadelphia on Thursday awarded a University of Pennsylvania doctoral candidate $80,000 for his 2011 arrest by city police while observing an Occupy Philadelphia protest for his dissertation.
The U.S. District Court jury deliberated for about three hours before returning the verdict in favor of Gregory Harris and awarding him compensatory damages.
The jury did not award punitive damages, said Lloyd Long 3d, who represented Harris with Elizabeth A. Hoffman in the 11/2-day trial before District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe.
City Solicitor Shelley Smith said late Thursday that city lawyers had not had a chance to review the case and verdict and she could not comment on a possible appeal.
Harris was a 29-year-old candidate in sociology when he was arrested shortly after 4 a.m. Nov. 30 and charged with assaulting an officer as police were evicting Occupy protesters camped on the west side of City Hall.
The Occupy movement began after the 2008 economic collapse. Protesters set up camps at Wall Street and other financial centers, and near municipal buildings, to demonstrate the effects of the recession on average Americans.
Harris was among 52 Occupy demonstrators arrested around Dilworth Plaza and north toward Spring Garden Street after police cleared the encampment to prepare the plaza for the $50 million reconstruction project that created today's Dilworth Park.
Most were charged with misdemeanor counts of obstruction and failing to disperse.
Only Harris was charged with the felony count of aggravated assault, accused of using his forearm to strike Joseph Sisca, a bicycle officer, knocking his helmet onto the bridge of his nose and cutting it.
But at a nonjury trial on Dec. 15, 2011, Municipal Court Judge Karen Y. Simmons dismissed all the charges against Harris: aggravated assault, riot, recklessly endangering another person, and resisting arrest.
The judge ruled that there was a lack of evidence supporting the charges that Harris, boxed in by the crowd, intentionally assaulted the officer.
Long said the jury's verdict shows that Harris was "arrested without probable cause and that the arrest was not a reasonable mistake" by the officer.
The suit did not allege that Harris was beaten or mistreated by police.
Long said Harris has moved to California, where he works in the tech industry. He will earn his doctorate from Penn when he finishes his dissertation, Long added.
Long said one other federal civil rights suit is pending on behalf of 27 people arrested in Occupy demonstrations on and around Nov. 30.