ATLANTA – A federal jury in Atlanta has awarded $100 million to a panhandler who fell and broke his neck after a police officer shocked him with a stun gun during a foot chase, news agencies report.
Jerry Blasingame now needs round-the-clock care costing $1 million a year, and has $14 million in medical bills so far, attorney Ven Johnson told jurors.
Jurors found that Officer Jon Grubbs used unreasonable force against Blasingame, who was 65 years old and had been asking drivers for money on July 10, 2018. He was paralyzed from the neck down and is now 69 years old.
The city has filed a motion for a directed verdict. A ruling from a judge on that motion may amend the jury’s verdict.
Judge Steve Jones has not yet ruled on that request, online court records indicate. Jones ruled before deliberations began that jurors could reasonably find that Grubbs used excessive force, and that they could consider the city's argument.
“The record would allow the jury to find that Mr. Blasingame had not been committing a serious crime before he was tased/ that Officer Grubbs did not fear for his safety/ and that the exigent circumstances were not otherwise so severe as to permit Officer Grubbs’s use of force,” Jones wrote Friday.
Blasingame’s conservator, Keith Edwards, sued the city of Atlanta and the officer, Jon Grubbs, for the cost of his past and future medical bills.
Johnson and civil rights attorney Craig Jones said Grubbs violated department policy by using a stun gun on an elderly man who was running away, the newspaper reported.
Edwards' lawsuit said Blasingame was on the street and asking people for money when Grubbs and another officer arrived and saw him talking with a driver.
Grubbs stepped out of the patrol car and told Blasingame to stop, but he moved out of the street to a guard rail, and Grubbs ran toward him, according to the lawsuit.
“Grubbs gets out of the car and starts chasing my client — a 65-year-old man — and for what? For potentially asking people for money?” Johnson said.
Johnson said the city did not make a thorough enough investigation into Grubbs' conduct and let him return to full duty six months after the incident and before the investigation was concluded.
“This is how an officer gets away with excessive force,” he told the jury in his closing argument. “You bury it.”
Staci J. Miller, one of the attorneys representing Atlanta and Grubbs, said Blasingame’s injuries were tragic, but city training and department policy were not to blame.
The City of Atlanta’s lawyers, who also represented Grubbs, were not available to comment on the verdict and a spokesperson for Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens declined to comment, the newspaper reported.
Grubbs joined the Atlanta Police Department as a cadet in December 2013, according to records of the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council. He became a full officer a year later and has served on the force since then.
He has no sanctions in his POST records and is listed as an officer in good standing by the state police certifying agency.