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Fletcher v. O'Donnell

filed: February 9, 1989.

WALTER L. FLETCHER, JR., APPELLANT
v.
ANTHONY O'DONNELL, CITY OF ALLENTOWN



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, D.C. Civil No. 87-2115

Gibbons, Chief Judge, Hutchinson, Circuit Judge, and Gerry,*fn* District Judge

Author: Gibbons

Opinion OF THE COURT

GIBBONS, Chief Judge:

Walter L. Fletcher, Jr., the plaintiff in a Civil Rights Act suit against police officer Anthony O'Donnell and his employer, the City of Allentown, Pennsylvania, appeals from a judgment in Fletcher's favor against Officer O'Donnell but in favor of the City. The judgment against Officer O'Donnell was entered on a jury verdict finding $750.00 in compensatory and $750.00 in punitive damages. Fletcher contends that the damage verdict was the result of an improper instruction and that a new trial should be awarded. The judgment in favor of the City of Allentown was entered after the court granted the City's motion for a directed verdict. Fletcher contends that, taking into account evidence which was improperly excluded, the court erred in granting that motion. We will affirm the judgment against Officer O'Donnell. We will reverse the judgment in favor of the City and remand for further proceedings.

I.

From the evidence admitted at trial, the jury could find that Fletcher, a black male, was sitting with black friends at a "white" bar in Allentown when the bar management asked him to leave. When he declined to do so, the management called the Allentown Police. Two officers responded. One of them, Officer O'Donnell, grabbed Fletcher from behind, shoved him out of the bar with a nightstick, and hit him with the nightstick while they were in the parking lot. O'Donnell then handcuffed Fletcher and drove him to the police station. There O'Donnell choked him until another officer intervened to prevent further injury to Fletcher.

Officer O'Donnell's version of the events is different. The trial court concluded that the case against him should go to the jury. The jury answered interrogatories as follows:

1. Has the plaintiff, Walter L. Fletcher, Jr., proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant, Anthony O'Donnell, arrested him without probable cause?

Answer: No.

2. Has the plaintiff, Walter L. Fletcher, Jr., proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant, Anthony O'Donnell, used excessive force at the time of his arrest and/or at the Allentown Police Station?

Answer: Yes.

3. State in dollars the amount of compensatory damages Walter L. Fletcher, Jr. incurred as a result of the ...


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