$6M awarded in Oakland false arrest case

A man who claimed he was falsely accused by two Oakland police officers of possessing a rifle and spent more than four months in jail as a result won a $6 million award from a federal jury in San Francisco today.

The civil rights verdict in favor of Torry Smith, 25, was assessed against the city of Oakland by a unanimous eight-person jury in the court of U.S. Magistrate Judge Edward Chen after a week-long trial.

Smith was arrested at his home in Oakland on Sept. 10, 2004, by Officers John Parkinson and Marcus Midyette, who said they saw him trying to hide an assault rifle under stairs at the back of his house.

At the time, Smith was on parole from the California Youth Authority for a juvenile offense. The officers had come to his house after they found his bank card in the car of the girlfriend of a paroled drug dealer whom they were investigating.

Smith denied any connection to the rifle or the drug dealer and said he had reported the loss or theft of his bank card a month earlier.

He was charged with being an ex-felon in possession of a gun.

His lawyer, John Burris, said Smith was then kept in jail for four and one-half months while he awaited two preliminary hearings, both of which resulted in dismissal of charges, and a hearing on a parole violation charge, which also ended in dismissal of the charge.

Smith was released in late January 2005. His lawyers said he is now working as a custodian and declined to say where he lives now.

Smith's lawsuit included claims of false arrest, assault, emotional distress and violation of his constitutional right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure.

Alex Katz, a spokesman for Oakland city attorney John Russo, said the award included $5 million to Smith for emotional distress; $8,000 for lost wages although he was not employed at the time, $750,000 to Smith's then-girlfriend for emotional distress; and a punitive damage award of $100,000 assessed against each officer.

Russo said the city will appeal.

The city attorney said, “We're baffled that the jury could make this decision, given the facts of the case. To reach this decision, the jury had to believe that two highly respected officers, in uniform, in a community where they are well known, in broad daylight, carried a two and one-half foot assault rifle from their car and planted it in the backyard of a man they had never even heard of before that day.”

Police Chief Wayne Tucker said: “These are hard-working officers who are well respected in the community and do not deserve this verdict.”

— Bay City News

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