30 March 2005

R.I. Civil Jury Rules in Favour of Narragansett Man

It's about time! The raid was an armed, violent, illegal invasion of sovereign land in violation of treaty and federal law. Many members of the Nation, including some Elders, were hospitalized from injuries sustained in the raid...


Jury Finds Against Trooper In Smoke-Shop Raid

Jurors decide two other troops are not liable for similar damages and a federal judge drops complaints against three other officers.

09:21 AM EST on Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE -- A federal jury yesterday found that state Trooper Kenneth Jones used excessive force when he twisted a Narragansett Indian's ankle until it broke during the smoke-shop raid in Charlestown two summers ago.

After deliberating almost five hours, the 10-member jury awarded $301,100 in damages to Adam Jennings, who was working behind the counter July 14, 2003.

"It's good to see some justice done," Paulla Dove Jennings, Adam's mother, said after the verdict.

The six state troopers in the courtroom appeared stunned. Tears streamed down Jones' face. State police Supt. Steven M. Pare, who attended most of the five-day trial, declined comment after the verdict.

The jury concluded that two other troopers -- Ken Bell and Staci Shepherd -- were not liable for damages in the raid. Bell had been accused of excessive force and battery for wrestling with shop manager Keith Huertas. Shepherd had faced similar claims for allegedly slamming Dove Jennings into a wall.

During its deliberations, the jury played and replayed videotapes of the chaotic moments in which the state police raided the smoke shop on South County Trail. The defense and the plaintiffs had relied upon the images, which showed undercover troopers posing as customers. The clips, taken by the state police and the Narragansett Indian tribe, also captured Adam Jennings' arrest for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

In those few seconds, at least four officers assisted in taking a struggling Jennings to the ground and handcuffing him. Jones gripped Jennings' right leg.

Jones testified that he was unsure whether Jennings was armed and he had used a technique he learned at the state police training academy to bring Jennings under control. Jones joined the force in 1997.

Jennings testified that Jones twisted his ankle more forcefully after he warned him that it was previously injured.

In closing arguments hours before the verdict, each side accused the other of creating revisionist history.

Juror Richard Jackvony said the panel felt for Jones, in spite of finding against him on complaints of excessive force and battery.

"I don't think it was anything intentional. The bottom line is that it was done. Somebody got hurt. The guy's got permanent damage," said Jackvony, 30, who works in construction.

Jurors awarded Jennings $1,100 for medical costs and $300,000 for pain and suffering, he said.

Earlier in the day, Pare said the state would cover any damages awarded. He said no disciplinary action would be taken against officers, regardless of the verdict.

An internal state police investigation concluded in August 2003 that the officers "acted appropriately" with the "lowest level of force."

Michael Healey, spokesman for the attorney general, said his office would meet today to "assess its legal options." Rebecca Partington, who represented the state, referred all comments to the attorney general's office.

The civil suit -- filed by Adam and Paulla Dove Jennings and Huertas -- had originally accused seven troopers of violating the shop workers' civil rights, using excessive force, and false imprisonment. Pare had also been named as a defendant, but he was removed from the suit by stipulated agreement.

Chief U.S. District Judge Ernest C. Torres dismissed the civil-rights claims last week. He trimmed the false imprisonment claims at the start of the yesterday's proceedings, ruling that the state had proved a search warrant had been served the day of the raid. The plaintiffs had claimed that the officers had not shown badges or a warrant.

The judge yesterday also dropped excessive force and battery complaints against Lt. James Demers, Cpl. Wilfred Hill and Trooper Kenneth Buoniauto. Cpl. Michelle Kershaw was released from the case last week.

State police raided the smoke shop on Governor Carcieri's orders to stop what the state claimed was the illegal sale of tax-free cigarettes. In a separate case pending in the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the tribe argues that as a sovereign nation it is outside state taxing authority.

Paulla Dove Jennings said she didn't have high hopes when she originally asked lawyer Michael Bradley to file the lawsuit decided yesterday.

"I didn't come here expecting anything," she said. "I just wanted our voices heard."



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