Punitive damages are amounts that must be paid after civil lawsuits when the person who is sued has engaged in some kind of outrageous behavior. They are essentially punished by having to pay extra damages.
An incident in New Mexico that resulted an award of punitive damages was tied to a woman who had made a noise complaint against neighbors and ended up getting severely beaten by the local police, and then filing a lawsuit for excessive use of force afterward.
Las Cruces woman beaten by responding officers
The situation essentially began over a noise complaint. There was a dispute between two neighbors over air horn sounds and rocks that were thrown throughout the course of the night.
When police arrived on the scene and began to interview the victim, she turned to walk away after speaking with one of the officers and was suddenly grabbed, had her arm pulled behind her, and was thrown to the ground in a violent manner. Her husband became concerned when he believed his wife was choking on her own blood, but he was also forcefully detained. Some officers with the department were also recorded joking about the beating over their radios and making positive comments about the level of force that was used.
Photos after the incident show the victim’s face almost entirely covered in blood and numerous cuts. The couple received over a million dollars in damages after their police brutality lawsuit against the city of Las Cruces in New Mexico. Just under $500,000 of that amount was from punitive damages alone. At the conclusion of the lawsuit, the two officers who were responsible for this conduct were still listed on the department’s payroll.
What are punitive damages?
Punitive damages are a significant factor in many kinds of civil cases. These are awarded by judge or jury to show that the defendant person or business acted in such a reckless way that they should be forced to pay an additional amount beyond the award meant to compensate victims for their injuries. Most cases that deal result punitive damages will feature some kind of intentional disregard for the appropriate standard of care.
In this case, the fact that there were photos taken of a young woman covered in blood who had been severely beaten could have been a crucial factor in the decision. It also seems that based on the information reported, the police would have had no reason to detain and arrest her, as she was only making a complaint about noise from a neighbor. There is also no acceptable use of force standard for law enforcement that allows officers to beat someone and joke about it merely for coming into contact with them.
Talk to a police brutality attorney to get help
After any act of police violence, it may be possible to file a lawsuit and get a similar result with the assistance of a lawyer. The Atkinson Law Firm has been helping people with all kinds of injuries in New Mexico since 1995.