Federal Jury Awards $1.6 Million Against Two Las Cruces Police Officers for Excessive Force, Battery and Unlawful Arrest

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A unanimous jury awarded a husband and wife $1.6 million in a verdict against two Las Cruces Police Department officers Friday in U.S. Federal Court in Las Cruces. Source: McGraw & Strickland, LLC, Attorneys for the victim.

A unanimous jury awarded a husband and wife $1.6 million in a verdict against two Las Cruces Police Department officers Friday in Beck v. Baker et al, CIV 14-0067 KG/WPL, U.S. Federal Court, District of New Mexico, Las Cruces (Source: McGraw & Strickland, LLC, Special Interrogatories answered by the Jury on 2/10/17 and Special Verdict Form entered by the Jury on 2/10/17).

On the evening of January 5, 2013, court documents based on eye-witness testimony show that a neighbor dispute over barking dogs resulted in a woman, Jillian Beck, suffering a broken nose and a fractured wrist - at the hands of Las Cruces Police Officer Isaiah Baker. The jury answered Special Interrogatories during their deliberations. The jury unanimously found that Officer Baker acted intentionally when he slammed Jillian Beck's face into the rocks, and that he intentionally banged her head against the car door. The jury also specifically found that Andrew Beck did not disobey a lawful order when he stepped towards his wife. Court records show that her husband, Andrew Beck, an active-duty Air Force member then based at White Sands Missile Range, attempted to help his wife who was bleeding on the ground.

According to multiple witnesses who testified during the jury trial, when Officer Baker lifted Mrs. Beck up off the ground, she was bleeding heavily from her face. During her interrogation at Las Cruces Police Department, which was videotaped, Mrs. Beck can be seen blotting her bloody face with tissues. This video was admitted as evidence at the trial and shown to the jury.

Mr. Beck testified on Tuesday via live feed from an Air Force Base in Qatar that he thought his wife was "choking on her own blood" as she lay face down on the ground with Officer Baker’s knee in her back. Court records show that when Mr. Beck stepped towards his wife, he was detained by Las Cruces Police Officer Joseph Campa.

The jury heard evidence of a belt tape audio recording, which was played to the jury and admitted as evidence, that Officer Baker could be heard on the audio saying, "She got thrown" and she got a "face full of rocks." When presented with his statements during his cross examination, court records show that Officer Baker admitted making these statements.

Mrs. Beck was arrested and charged with Battery on a Peace Officer, Resisting, Evading and Obstructing an Officer and Disorderly Conduct. Mr. Beck was charged with Resisting, Evading and Obstructing an Officer for stepping towards his bleeding wife on the ground.

The jury found that Officer Baker had used unreasonably excessive force in violation of Mrs. Beck's 4th Amendment right and committed a battery in violation of New Mexico State law.

The jury also found that Officer Campa had unlawfully seized and arrested Mr. Beck in violation of the 4th Amendment. The jury awarded $100,000 in compensatory damages to Mr. Beck, and $500,000 to Mrs. Beck. The jury also awarded $1,000,000 in punitive damages based on Officer Baker's willful, malicious, wanton and reckless conduct.

"The jury sent a clear message that this type of behavior towards civilians will not be tolerated in our community," said Margaret Strickland, Mr. and Mrs. Beck's attorney. The Becks' attorneys argued to the jury that the "blue wall of silence" had shielded the officers' misconduct and subsequent cover-up for four years.

Attorneys Margaret Strickland and Mollie McGraw with the law firm of McGraw & Strickland, LLC represented Jillian Beck and Andrew Beck in the civil rights case.

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Ken Matejka
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