17 Oct 2014

Family of man sued a small town after he was killed by a police officer. A federal jury awarded them $97.5M. The town's annual budget is $600,000.

A mix of shock, joy and uncertainty buzzed in this tiny, rural community Thursday as residents contemplated how the town might pay a court judgment so large it could fund the local budget for the next 162 years.
Mayor Tim Grimsley, a white-bearded Santa Claus figure who drives an old VW van, said business was normal in the wake of a $97.5 million award by a federal jury to the family of a town leader fatally shot by a Cottageville police officer three years ago. 

"I plan to go forward," he said, citing plans to renovate the gym and build a park and a library.
But others weren't so sure, predicting that the award, if it stands, could send this little burg between Summerville and Walterboro into bankruptcy or worse.
The town has $1 million in coverage through the S.C. Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund. But that likely wouldn't even pay the interest on any loan they'd find to cover what's owed to the family of slain former Mayor Bert Reeves.
"I don't think they'll ever collect that money because the town doesn't have any money," former Town Councilman Jimmy Ramsey said. "I don't know if we'll have to go bankrupt, but I'm not sure we're going to be able to survive as a town either." 
Grimsley said most folks in this of town around 750 people aren't panicking yet. Many can't even wrap their heads around the $97.5 million figure, he said. That's not surprising given the fact that the town's annual budget is a little less than $600,000. Besides, he said, many expect the final judgment will be whittled down as motions and possible appeals go forward.

A federal jury handed down the judgment late Wednesday following a nine-day trial in U.S. District Court in Charleston. The case stemmed from a May 16, 2011, incident in which Randall Price, an officer with a questionable record, shot Reeves in the chest during an argument. Price claimed self-defense, but Reeves' family alleged negligence in a wrongful-death suit against the town, the police department and Price.
If the case had been tried in state court, the town's damages would have been limited under South Carolina's tort law to $300,000 per individual or $600,000 per event. But the Reeves' family alleged civil-rights violations that kept the suit in federal court, where awards can exceed the state cap. The jury, in fact, sided with the Reeves family on all counts, including allegations that the town had been negligent in hiring Price and that the officer had used excessive force against the former mayor.
The resulting award includes $7.5 million in actual damages, $60 million in punitive damages against the town and $30 million in punitive damages against Price, who was let go by the town about three months after the shooting.
"I cannot thank the jury enough for their courage to do justice in this case," Ashley Reeves, the former mayor's widow, said in a written statement. "My children take great comfort in knowing their father's name has been cleared and that this officer will no longer carry a gun and a badge." 
Price's attorney, Lake Summers, did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday night or Thursday. The town's attorney, Vinton "Dee" Lide, was said to be away from his office Thursday and unavailable for comment.

Patrick Hubbard, a tort law professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, said a number of things could still occur to reduce the final judgment, including a required review of punitive damages by the judge. An appeal could also be in the cards.
"I would be surprised if the defendants are not already working on their post-judgment options," he said. 

Read more:http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20141016/PC16/141019471/1177


  1. The State should be forced to pay the judgment and the officer should have his pension revoked along with every single town employee to recompense the State. It is time to make State employees understand that amoral behavior by State workers cannot and will not be tolerated in any form. They are a collective organization and each member should share in a collective punishment.

  2. It should be the cop having to pay the judgment not the taxpayers!

  3. make the pig pay!

  4. Why isn't the cop put in jail?


  6. I've been saying the same thing too. Maybe a Whitehouse.gov petition could raise awareness of this solution (and police brutality).

  7. Everything will be settled and back to normal in 162 and a half years.

  8. Well he does have a 30 million dollar judgment againt him!