Newman civil rights violations lawsuit goes to jury

February 3, 2014

Law & Courts

BEAUMONT — A jury is now deliberating the federal civil rights violations of Derrick Newman against two Beaumont police officers (one now retired) he accuses of using excessive force against him during an August 2007 traffic stop.

David Todd Burke and James Cody Guedry were among several officers who arrived at a scene in which Newman was a passenger in a vehicle stopped for a minor traffic infraction in a high-crime part of Beaumont on August 24, 2007.

Guedry, then a rookie officer with only a few weeks’ training on patrol, was giving Newman, a passenger in the vehicle stopped for a minor traffic infraction, a pat-down search while other officers were struggling to detain another passenger being arrested on traffic warrants.

As seen on a dashboard video camera, a struggle began between the two men (the cause of which they dispute). The video depicts Burke, then a veteran officer with 17 years of service, moving in to assist Guedry carrying his custom-made baton. In the ensuing moments, Burke struck Newman numerous times, and Guedry used his Taser at least twice before the struggle ended.

Newman filed his suit in state civil court nearly a year later, and it was later removed to federal court by the officers’ attorneys.

In 2010, Burke (since retired) and Guedry were convicted by separate juries of the Class A misdemeanor charge of official oppression, Burke for striking Newman up to 13 times and Guedry for using the Taser against him.

However, both men’s convictions were overturned by appeals courts on technical grounds, and both are awaiting retrial in Jefferson County state criminal courts. [For more background on the case and a link to the video of the incident, click here.]

After several pretrial appeals (including, briefly, at the U.S. Supreme Court), testimony in the case began last Thursday.

Attorneys for both sides gave compelling closing arguments before the five-man, four-woman jury began their deliberations around 11:15 a.m.

“An unjust verdict hurts as all,” Langston Adams, Newman’s attorney, told the jurors. “It would give police officers a false sense of superiority. It tells them I can do what I did to Derrick Newman and I can get away with it, and not be held accountable.”

An unjust verdict would also send a message to citizens that since police are not accountable, others are not as well, which would make police even more vulnerable in their very dangerous jobs, Adams said.

Comparing America to a ship in which all citizens, police and civilians alike are passengers, Adams said, “We all sink in that kind of ship.”

Turning to the case at hand, Adams reminded the jurors of his cross-examination of Burke, when Adams said to the former officer, “In your heart, you KNOW Derrick Newman did not deserve to be beaten like that,” to which Burke loudly replied, “You’re a LIAR!”

If Adams could act like that within the controlled, sedate confines of a federal courtroom, Adams asked the jurors, how would he behave on the streets?

Later, Adams told the jurors he felt the actions of Guedry, who was closest to Newman and knew the real cause of the struggle, were even more “reprehensible” than Burke’s, since he formed the intention to use his Taser against him independent of any instruction from superior officers.

Lead defense attorney Craig Schexnaider began his closing by telling the jurors that citizens of other countries don’t enjoy many of the tools of police accountability seen in America, such as patrol car cameras and use-of-force reports.

He reminded the jurors that Newman and the driver of the car failed to obey officers’ instructions to get back in the car while they were struggling to arrest the other occupant.

And he referred to Guedry’s explanation of the initial cause of the struggle — that Newman grabbed his hand during the pat-down search and pulled it towards his own crotch.

“No one should grab the hand of a police officer. They don’t like that,” Schexnaider said. All the actions that followed, including Burke’s use of the baton and Guedry’s use of the Taser, were taken simply to gain Newman’s compliance. Once Newman said “I give up,” after the second use of the Taser, he said, all their use of force stopped.

If Newman and the driver of the car had simply stayed in the car, or gone back inside when told to by the officers, he said, “none of this might have occurred.”

Newman is seeking reimbursement for medical costs and lost wages, as well as unspecified damages for pain and suffering as well as punitive damages, which Adams said was to “make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.”

Derrick Newman, right, listens as his attorney, Langston Adams, talks to reporters following the verdict in Newman's civil rights violations lawsuit trial.

Derrick Newman, right, listens as his attorney, Langston Adams, talks to reporters following the verdict in Newman’s civil rights violations lawsuit trial.

UPDATE: After nearly six hours of deliberations, the jury returned a verdict. They found that James Cody Guedry did not violate Newman’s constitutional rights by using excessive force.

The jury did find, however, that David Todd Burke did violate Newman’s rights by using excessive force, that his actions were “objectively unreasonable under the circumstances” and were a cause of the his damage claims.

The jury awarded Newman a total of $3,513.66 for medical costs and lost wages, as well as $26,500 for pain and suffering and mental anguish. They also awarded him $10,000 in punitive damages, meant to discourage such behavior in the future.

The courtroom was quiet throughout the verdict, with no outward reaction from Newman, Guedry, Burke or the numerous supporters on both sides.

Later, Newman and Langston Adams, his attorney, said they were pleased with the judgment against Burke, but disappointed that Guedry was also not found liable.

Adams said the “good thing” was that Burke, who resigned following his misdemeanor conviction, was no longer on the police force.

Newman said he was looking forward to the newly appointed criminal district attorney for Jefferson County retrying the two officers, whose convictions were both overturned on appeals.

Just after the verdict, Burke said he felt “a little sad” at the verdict. He said it would send a message that would make Beaumont “less safe down the road.” He vowed that he would appeal the verdict.

Guedry declined to make a statement at the courthouse.

SECOND UPDATE: On April 25, Burke and attorney Craig Schexnaider filed a motion for a new trial, arguing, among other things, that the evidence presented during the trial was insufficient for the jury to reach its conclusion that Burke’s actions violated Newman’s constitutional rights or constituted excessive force. It also argues that Clark, the judge, improperly instructed the jury as to the law before they began deliberations.

Schexnaider, in the meantime, pleaded guilty April 17 of failing to file a federal income tax return in 2008, as reported by The Examiner newspaper. [On Jan. 14, 2015, Schexnaider was sentenced to one year in federal prison, as reported by the Beaumont Enterprise.]

THIRD UPDATE:  On September 17, 2014, Judge Clark denied Burke’s motion for a new trial on each of the points raised by Schexnaider. In his 7-page order, Clark specifically cited Burke’s outburst in open court when he called Langston Adams “a liar” from the stand:

“Burke himself evidenced his lack of control and temper in open court before the jury. He became visibly agitated near the end of his cross-examination:

Plaintiff’s Counsel: Because, Officer Burke, you know and I know—you know it –Derrick Newman didn’t have a weapon, and Derrick Newman didn’t deserve the beating that you gave him.
You know that, don’t you?
Defendant Burke: He didn’t get a beating.
Plaintiff’s Counsel: Pass the Witness, your Honor.
Defendant Burke: You’re a liar.
Plaintiff’s Counsel: I—
Defendant Burke: You’re a liar.
Burke’s statements were not mild observations or made in jest. The court observed Burke as he made these statements. The court could not fault the jury for concluding that a peace officer with Burke’s years of experience, who visibly lost his self-control under questioning by a young attorney, lost his self-control on the night in question.”
 On Oct. 14, Burke and Schexnadier filed a notice of appeal of Clark’s final judgement and orders to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
FOURTH UPDATE:  On Nov. 19, 2014, the Fifth Circuit dismissed Burke’s appeal of Clark’s ruling for want of prosecution because his attorneys “failed to timely order transcript and make financial arrangements with [the] court reporter.”
FIFTH UPDATE:  On Dec. 4, 2014, the Fifth Circuit clerk reinstated Burke’s appeal after his attorneys obtained funds to order a trial transcript from the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT).
SIXTH UPDATE:  On the final two days of 2014, after Newman signed an affidavit stating he did not want to continue with the criminal complaints, Jefferson County prosecutors dismissed the official oppression charges against Burke and Guedry. As part of his agreement with prosecutors, Burke stipulated that he would not seek employment as a peace officer in Texas for ten years. There was no such stipulation for Guedry, who remains on the Beaumont police force.
SEVENTH UPDATE:  On Feb. 5, 2015, Burke filed a motion to dismiss his appeal. The Fifth Circuit granted the motion on Feb. 9 and issued a mandate, effectively closing the case.
Copyright © 2014 Ken Fountain. All rights reserved.
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About Ken Fountain

I'm a journalist and writer in Houston, Texas. My areas of specialty inxfcgclude law and courts, local government and industry and environmental issues. You can follow me on Twitter at @twitter.com/kenfountain and email me at kenfountain1 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Burke and Guedry defend their actions in Newman civil trial | Fountain's Pen - February 5, 2014

    […] Both sides rested their cases Friday afternoon. Closing arguments are set to begin Monday morning before the case goes to the jury. […]

  2. Federal panel rules against Burke and Guedry in civil case | Fountain's Pen - February 9, 2014

    […] 30, 2014, more than six years after the original incident. On February 1, the five-man, four-woman jury found that Guedry did not violate Newman’s rights but that Burke did. They awarded Newman just over […]

  3. Federal appeals court sides with Beaumont in Newman case | Fountain's Pen - February 9, 2014

    […] 30, 2014, more than six years after the original incident. On February 1, the five-man, four-woman jury found that Guedry did not violate Newman’s rights but that Burke did. They awarded Newman just over […]

  4. Burke and Guedry only defendants left in Newman civil suit | Fountain's Pen - February 9, 2014

    […] 30, 2014, more than six years after the original incident. On February 1, the five-man, four-woman jury found that Guedry did not violate Newman’s rights but that Burke did. They awarded Newman just over […]

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