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Whitney Dawkins, Jr v. City and County of Honolulu; Zane Hamrick

May 31, 2012

WHITNEY DAWKINS, JR.,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY AND COUNTY OF HONOLULU; ZANE HAMRICK; BARRY TONG; AND JOHN DOES 1-10,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Helen Gillmor United States District Judge

ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF WHITNEY DAWKINS, JR.'S MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL OR AMENDMENT OF JUDGMENT (DOC. 272)

On February 6, 2012, a jury returned a verdict in favor of Defendants City and County of Honolulu, Zane Hamrick, and Barry Tong. (Doc. 260). The jury found that the Defendants did not use excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The jury found that Defendants Hamrick and Tong committed a battery under Hawaii state common law, but that the officers were not liable for the battery because they did not act with malice.

On March 7, 2012, Plaintiff Whitney Dawkins, Jr. filed a Motion for a New Trial or Amendment of Judgment. (Doc. 272). Plaintiff argues that the Court must enter the verdict in his favor or grant a new trial because the jury's verdict on the federal excessive force claim is inconsistent with the jury's finding on the state law battery claim. Plaintiff also argues that the evidence at trial was in his favor.

The jury's findings on the federal excessive force claim and the Hawaii common law battery claims are not inconsistent. The evidence at trial supports the jury's verdict. Plaintiff's Motion for a New Trial or Amendment of Judgment (Doc. 272) is DENIED.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On February 22, 2010, the Plaintiff filed a Complaint. (Doc. 1).

There were two Motions to Dismiss, two Motions for Summary Judgment, and a Motion for Reconsideration filed by the Defendants. In four Orders, the Court dismissed eight of the Plaintiff's claims. The Court dismissed all claims against Defendant Windward Community Federal Credit Union pursuant to a settlement agreement.

On January 19, 2012, a jury trial was commenced. (Doc. 233). On February 6, 2012, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the Defendants. (Doc. 260).

On February 8, 2012, the Clerk of the Court entered Judgment. (Doc. 267).

On March 7, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Motion entitled, "MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL AND OR AMENDMENT OF JUDGMENT." (Doc. 272).

On March 9, 2012, Plaintiff filed an Exhibit "1" in support of his Motion for a New Trial or Amendment of Judgment. (Doc. 275).

On March 20, 2012, the Defendants filed an Opposition. (Doc. 278). The Plaintiff did not file a Reply.

Pursuant to Local Rule 7.2(d), the Court elected to decide the Motion without a hearing.

BACKGROUND

On February 22, 2010, Plaintiff Whitney Dawkins filed a Complaint against the City and County of Honolulu, the Windward Community Federal Credit Union, and individual Defendants Zane Hamrick and Barry Tong, alleging numerous violations of his rights under both federal and state law. January 20, 2011, the Court issued an Order dismissing all claims against Defendant Windward Community Federal Credit Union pursuant to a settlement agreement. (Doc. 75). After considering two Motions to Dismiss and two Motions for Summary Judgment filed by the remaining Defendants, the Court issued Orders that dismissed all of the Plaintiff's claims except for two: (1) excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and (2) battery under Hawaii state law. After a six and a half day trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the Defendants on these two claims.

Plaintiff's excessive force and battery claims were based on an incident that began when the Plaintiff attempted to open an account at the Windward Community Federal Credit Union. At trial, employees of the credit union testified that they attempted to help the Plaintiff open an account. The employees stated that the Plaintiff was confused by the process and did not understand their questions. The Plaintiff has a mental disability, and he persisted in his attempts to open an account even though the communication process broke down. A credit union employee eventually asked the Plaintiff to leave. The Plaintiff refused, and a credit union employee called the police. Police officers Zane Hamrick and Barry Tong arrived at the bank, and they recognized the Plaintiff. From previous interactions with him, the officers knew the Plaintiff was a person with a mental disability. Officer Hamrick testified that he asked the Plaintiff to step outside the credit union to talk. Hamrick testified that after the Plaintiff refused, he attempted to escort the Plaintiff outside with a light touch.

There were different accounts of precisely what events followed. Witnesses to the event testified that there was a physical struggle between the officers and the Plaintiff. Officer Hamrick testified that the Plaintiff pushed him away, causing the officer to crash into a chair. A taser dart was then fired at the Plaintiff. A video taken from the taser gun showed a taser dart being shot in the Plaintiff's direction, appearing to bounce off the Plaintiff, and the Plaintiff then fleeing the credit union.

Witnesses testified that the police officers pursued the Plaintiff, and caught up to him outside the credit union. One witness testified that he saw the Plaintiff walking, and then saw a police officer approach and tackle the Plaintiff to the ground. Photographs taken by a bystander showed several officers appearing to be holding the Plaintiff on the ground. Officer Hamrick testified that the Plaintiff was struggling and resisting arrest, and he sprayed the Plaintiff with pepper spray to subdue him. Bystanders who witnessed the evident described the force used by the officers differently. Although one witness testified that the officers were punching the Plaintiff even though he was not resisting, another witness testified that the Plaintiff appeared to be resisting arrest.

The jury returned a verdict in favor of the Defendants on both Plaintiff's federal excessive force and state law battery claims. The jury found that Defendants Hamrick and Tong did not use excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. As to the state claim, the jury found that the officers committed a battery against the Plaintiff by intentionally contacting him, without his consent, in a manner that was unreasonable under the circumstances. The jury found, however, that the officers did not commit the battery with malice. Under Hawaii state law, police officers are entitled to qualified immunity from liability for battery unless they acted with malice. The jury verdict was in favor of the Defendants on both claims.

The jury answered the relevant questions as follows:

1. Did Plaintiff Whitney Dawkins, Jr. establish by a preponderance of the evidence that Defendant Zane Hamrick and/or Defendant Barry Tong used excessive force against Plaintiff, thereby violating his Fourth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution?

Jury Answer: No.

2. On Plaintiff Whitney Dawkins, Jr.'s battery claim against Defendants City and County of Honolulu, Zane Hamrick, and Barry Tong: 2A Do you find by a preponderance of the evidence that Defendant Zane Hamrick and/or Defendant Barry Tong intentionally contacted Plaintiff's body, without ...


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