In a federal civil rights lawsuit that pitted the word of a Delray Beach family against various members of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, a federal jury decided Thursday to believe the family.
After deliberating more than 20 hours over the course of three days, jurors found that the deputies illegally detained and searched Arnetta McCloud, her then-15-year-old daughter, Cynthia, and a cousin, Marcus Frazier, in a midnight traffic stop and drug investigation that stretched for more than four hours in July, 2001.
"I think justice was done," Arnetta McCloud said as she left the courtroom, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. "It's been a long, long journey."
Jurors decided that Cynthia McCloud, who claimed that she was forced to pull down her pants for a female deputy, suffered the most severe trauma. They awarded her $1.3 million in punitive damages and an additional $173,000 for "humiliation" and to compensate for at least three years of weekly psychological counseling that her therapists testified would be necessary to recover.
Arnetta McCloud, who claimed she was strip-searched and had her genitals were injured by the same female deputy, was awarded $250,000 in punitive damages and another $85,000 for humiliation and compensation for the cost of counseling.
Frazier, who is now an arena league football player, was awarded $150,000 in punitive damages and $42,000 for humiliation and compensation for psychological counseling.
The seven-member jury found that all six defendants, all of them former deputies or ranking officers who took part in the traffic stop, were guilty of violating the family members' civil rights by detaining them longer than was "reasonably necessary" to determine that there were no drugs or contraband in the car.
The jurors also found that each defendant acted according to a "custom" or policy of the department and did so with "malicious" disregard for the plaintiff's rights.
The defendants, some of them in uniform, filed quickly out of the courtroom after the verdict was read and declined to comment.
Their attorney, David Cornell of Gainesville, also declined to comment.
Only a few days before in his closing arguments, the McClouds' attorney, Guy Rubin of Stuart, accused the deputies of lying to avoid responsibility.
Conjuring the ghosts of Nazi atrocities and American abuse of Iraqi prisoners, Rubin warned jurors not to excuse the deputies because they claimed they were doing their jobs
"From the days of the Nuremberg trials to Abu Ghraib, there is no defense that they were just following orders," Rubin said.
Rubin asked for "extreme" damages, saying the searches and nearly four-hour detention of the mother and daughter were "reprehensible."
Rubin suggested that both women deserved as much as $1 million in compensation each for a trauma that will scar them for life, and another $23,000 to pay for years of counseling that two psychologists testified would be necessary.
Marcus Frazier, a cousin whom the family raised as a son, deserved $50,000 for the trauma he suffered from the incident, mostly from feeling powerless to help his cousin and aunt, Rubin said
In addition, Rubin said his clients deserved $5 million in punitive damages, to teach the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department a lesson for slipshod policies and reckless violations of its citizens' civil rights.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle instructed jurors that the deputies were lawfully allowed to detain the McCloud women and Marcus Frazier only as long as was "reasonably necessary" to determine that there were no drugs in the car.
"It's to punish and deter the agency," Rubin said. "Any less would have no deterrent effect."
The defense argued that the family was not held against its will after repeated searches of the car failed to turn up any contraband. Deputies took the McClouds to a Monticello home of relatives they were visiting to conduct a search of the residence.
Deputies said they did so only at the invitation of the McCloud parents. The family claims they were forced back to the home against their will, forming the basis of their illegal detention claim.
Both women testified at the trial that they were strip-searched by the side of the road, with Arnetta McCloud suffering a scratch to her vagina and Cynthia being forced to lower her pants and underwear while a flashlight was trained on her groin.
Deputies denied ordering a strip search. They said they called in a female deputy from Leon County to conduct "pat search" on the outside of the women's clothing because they did not feel comfortable doing so themselves.
Former Leon County Sheriff's Deputy Evelyn Anderson testified that she did not strip-search Arnetta or Cynthia McCloud, but she said she was surprised when the girl volunteered to lower her pants.
Rubin told jurors that Anderson was lying.
"It shows you the extent to which law enforcement officers will come into this courtroom and change their story to fit the defense," he said.
We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.