Jury Awards $1 in Damages to Family of Black Man Assaulted by Cops in Mistaken Identity Case

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DeShawn Franklin, the Indiana man assaulted by police in case od mistaken identity. Photo: Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar
DeShawn Franklin, the Indiana man assaulted by police in a case of mistaken identity. Photo: Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar

The family of a Black man assaulted by police in a case of mistaken identity is outraged after a jury awarded them just $1 in damages stemming from the traumatic incident.

Four years ago, three police officers unlawfully entered the South Bend, Indiana home of DeShawn Franklin, 22, in search of a domestic violence suspect sporting dreadlocks.

According to the Indianapolis Star, officers roused Franklin from his sleep and repeatedly punched him in the face and upper body. They also used a Taser to subdue him. Franklin, who was just 18 at the time, was then handcuffed and detained in the back of a squad car for the whole neighborhood to see.

Officers quickly saw their mistake, however, realizing that they had the wrong guy.

Franklin’s family later filed a civil suit alleging excessive force, unlawful entry and false imprisonment among other things. Just this month, a federal jury in Fort Wayne found the officers liable for the unlawful entry and unlawful seizure of the Franklin’s home. However, the family’s pain and suffering was determined to be worth $1.

Per the Indy Star, each officer who ignored the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment was ordered to pay a dollar to Franklin and each of his parents for each rights violation. The family was awarded $18 in total.

The paper also reports that the city is requiring Franklin’s family and their attorney to shell out roughly $1,500 for expenses incurred by the city in defending their case. Thanks to an ambiguous federal law, the city can collect money due because the jury award was less than a settlement offered to the Franklin family.

“I think that’s shocking. I think that’s a travesty of justice,” said Rev. Mario Sims, a local pastor and activist in South Bend. “It creates a very difficult environment when you deal with African-American people you tell them to trust the system, and this family did all the right things, they did trust the system, and essentially, even though the jury found their rights were violated, the jury didn’t value those rights.”

Franklin has since been reluctant to speak about the June 2012 incident and says that night is still a source of embarrassment for him.

“It happened to me so when I step out in the public that draws attention to me that I don’t want,” he said.

So how is it that Franklin and his family were awarded $1 each? According to the Indy Star, jury members were told at the close of testimony that they could award as little as $1 if they did not see evidence of more damages. Jurors polled after the announcement of the verdict confirmed they heard no evidence to justify monetary compensation for damages.

“I have no value on the face of Earth, just as a person,”  Franklin said. “We all bleed the same, so how could you value my family’s constitutional rights at a dollar but maybe elsewhere it could be $5, $10, $100,000? It just shows no respect for us.”

Vivian Franklin, DeShawn’s mom, shared the harrowing details of that night with South Bend’s WNDU news. She said police stormed her home in July 2012 in search of her elder son, Dan Franklin, who was accused of assaulting his girlfriend in a drunken rage. According to police reports, the victim described her attacker as a slim Black male with dreadlocks who had probably fled to his mother’s house.

Upon entering the residence, officers saw DeShawn sleeping in bed and mistook him for his brother. That’s when they assaulted and arrested the teen.

“It became apparent that there were indeed physical similarities between DeShawn and Dan, but ultimately DeShawn was truly sleeping and only acted as he did out of shock/surprise,” one of the officers wrote in his report.

According to WNDU, the officers were cited for excessive use of force and illegally entering the home, but never suspended. They were only required to complete a remedial training course.

As for Franklin’s brother, Dan, he was never charged or arrested for domestic violence.

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