It was 2012 when Indiana police entered a home without a warrant and shook awake a sleeping 18-year-old high school student, punching him six times, then tasering him before dragging him outside and stuffing him into a patrol car.
Handcuffed in the back of the car, DeShawn Franklin demanded to know what he had done wrong.
A South Bend police officer told him he had matched the description of a man they were looking for, specifically, he had the same hairstyle; dreadlocks.
Franklin argued that dreadlocks were a popular hairstyle among young black men and that he had not broken any law.
It was only then that it dawned on police that they had arrested the wrong man, so they released him from the car and apologized.
In fact, the man they were looking for was Franklin’s brother, Dan Franklin, who was suspected of domestic abuse. But to this day, Dan Franklin has not been arrested or charged with that crime.
The younger brother filed a lawsuit over the incident and after rejecting several settlements, insisting on taking the case to trial.
Earlier this month, a federal jury sided with him, determining that police did indeed violate his Fourth Amendment rights by entering his home without a warrant and wrongfully arresting him.
But the jury decided those violations were worth only $1 in damages.
Yes, one dollar for each Constitutional violation, which ended up totaling $18, paid by the three officers to Franklin and his two parents who were inside the home that night on July 7, 2012.
The city of South Bend also insists that the Franklin family pay $1,500 in legal expenses, which includes hotel room and mileage for the officers because the trial was held in another city.
Mario Sims, pastoral counselor for the Franklin family, believes the lowly sum is the jury’s way of saying they support police, even when the evidence shows they violated a family’s civil rights.
“I think in the environment that’s in America now where police officers have been gunned down in the street, I think the jury was sending a message of support for the police officers,” said Mario Sims, Pastoral Counselor to the Franklin family. “Now somewhere between supporting the police officers and the constitution, they forgot that there’s a family whose constitutional rights were violated. The message you’re sending by awarding them a nominal award of a dollar is essentially, so what? So what that sworn police officers broke into your home and punched your son and tased them.”
So what went wrong?
Peter Agostino, the attorney who represented the city, blames the family attorney, Johnny Ulmer, for doing a poor job in representing them.
Ulmer, who spent 20 years as a sheriff’s deputy, took the case pro bono.
The family filed a civil suit in February 2013, accusing the officers of excessive force, unlawful entry, false imprisonment, false arrest and battery. Johnny Ulmer, an attorney from Elkhart who spent 20 years as an Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department deputy, took on their case pro bono. The city hired Peter Agostino, an attorney who has represented plaintiffs and defendants in federal civil rights cases for nearly 30 years, to represent the officers, who are still employed by the South Bend Police Department.
Agostino said the city made four settlement offers to the Franklin family. The family said they were offered $15,000 to settle. Agostino said higher amounts were offered, but declined to say how much higher. The family opted for trial, and the jury, one African American and five white individuals, reached its verdict Aug. 1.
Agostino called DeShawn Franklin “an outstanding young man” and acknowledged that some compensation was warranted. During trial, though, Agostino said the plaintiffs failed to prove damages beyond the rights violations. For example, no wages were lost or medical bills incurred.
Agostino said DeShawn and his family were not served well by their attorney, who should have told them to take the settlement.
A city spokesman told the newspaper that he understands the family’s frustration but points out that the officers were disciplined with written reprimands and were ordered to undergo training on Fourth Amendment rights.