The plaintiffs’ attorney in a Gerald police civil rights violations case says his clients were “vindicated” regardless of the amount they received in damages.
A federal jury last week awarded less than $50,000 in combined actual and punitive damages to the plaintiffs in a federal civil rights trial involving former Gerald police and a man who impersonated a federal officer.
There were 14 plaintiffs who received judgments in the suit. Nine of the plaintiffs did not recover any damages.
The trial lasted nearly three weeks and concluded March 10.
“This was secondarily about money,” said Bob Herman, attorney for the plaintiffs. “The money was only to make the claim for their constitutional rights being violated.”
Herman noted that the plaintiffs “didn’t get as much as they liked,” but still were vindicated with the jury award.
The plaintiffs alleged civil rights violations in 2008 by former Gerald Police Chief Ryan McCrary, former Assistant Chief Scott Ramsey and Bill Jakob, who pretended to be a federal narcotics officer now serving time in a federal prison for fraud.
Statements from Gerald area residents, who were targets of police raids, led county, state and federal authorities to take a closer look into Jakob’s background. Authorities then uncovered the ruse that apparently lasted over a month.
Herman claims that McCrary knew from the beginning of the scheme that Jakob was not a federal officer, but continued to use that as a guise to illegally enter residences.
Herman said McCrary and Ramsey were “acting intentionally and maliciously” during raids on the plaintiffs’ homes.
“His (McCrary’s) lawyer’s argument was that he was stupid, not evil,” said Herman. “Nobody is that stupid.”
Former Gerald officer Shannon Kestermont was named in the civil suit, but there was a defense verdict in her favor on all claims by all plaintiffs.
Herman contends that the jury proved the rights of the plaintiffs were violated.
“In order to assess the punitive damages, there had to be proof that they engaged in malicious, intentional known violations of constitutional rights,” he said.
“It is not about the money for an individual person but establishing the fact that this was an egregious case,” Herman added.
Herman explained that he intends to file an appeal to contest that the city of Gerald had been removed from the case due to a technicality.
He explained that the city was dismissed from the suit because McCrary was not acting on behalf of the city.
The legal question is who is the policy enforcer for the city — the police chief, or board of aldermen, Herman added.
“Because of the way the court ruled, it would make a terrible precedent,” he said. “I can’t let that get by.”
There could be other possible appeals, Herman said, but noted that he is not certain if there will be any filed.
It also is possible that more damages could be awarded to plaintiffs as the result of an appeal.
A listing of damages for individual plaintiffs was in the Union section of The Missourian Wednesday and can be found HERE.