Last week a federal appellate court rescinded a non-liable jury verdict against a Florida police officer accused of misconduct over concerns that the jury had not been properly screened for bias against homosexuals.
“(T)he district court refused to ask any questions at all about prejudice on the basis of sexual orientation,” the ruling by the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeal reads. “Therefore, we have no way to discern whether the jury was biased against (the plaintiff) for that reason.”
As such, the non-liable verdict against now-retired Lt. David Smith of the Key West Police Department has been tossed out and a new civil trial ordered to be commenced.
The case against Smith pertains to his interactions with Raymond Berthiaume, a homosexual man who claims Smith caused physical harm to him during an altercation four years ago at Fantasy Fest, a street party event held annually in Key West, Florida.
The ruling by the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeal explains that Berthiaume, his partner and several of his friends had been present at the party in the early morning hours of Oct. 27 when Berthiaume tried to drag his friend, Nelson Jimenez, out of a local gay bar so they could all return home.
“As Berthiaume led Jimenez out of the bar with his hand on Jimenez’s upper arm, Jimenez took the car keys from Berthiaume, twisted out of Berthiaume’s grip, and ran down an adjacent alleyway,” the ruling reads.
“Berthiaume, clad only in boxer shorts or a loin cloth and flip flops, followed Jimenez to retrieve the keys. During his pursuit of Jimenez, Berthiaume became frustrated and banged his hand against a street sign before continuing down the alleyway.”
Smith reportedly witnessed the altercation, which he perceived as a fight, and tried to intervene by pushing Berthiaume on the shoulder to stop it. This move wound up knocking Berthiaume to the ground, and, according to the court’s findings, Berthiaume suffered a fractured wrist and jaw because of it.
He was then booked on a domestic battery charge but later released because Jimenez refused to press charges.
Now fast forward to January of 2015, when Berthiaume sued Smith and the city of Key West, demanding $15,000 in damages for the injuries he suffered, according to the Miami Herald.
After a three-day trial in May of 2016, a jury reportedly sided against Berthiaume. He in turn appealed the decision.
“Berthiaume noted that homosexuals had only recently begun to gain acceptance in society, and many people still harbor bias or prejudice against homosexuals,” the ruling notes.
“Accordingly, Berthiaume contended that in a case such as his, involving both a gay party and gay witnesses, it is necessary for courts to inquire into prospective jurors’ potential biases against homosexuals to ensure a fair trial.”
The court was correct: Jurors should always be screened for potential biases.
That being said, why weren’t they screened the first time? The ruling says only that “the district court refused to ask any question at all about prejudice on the basis of sexual orientation,” but doesn’t explain why.
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