When Monique Davis heard that was the amount a jury believed her fiancee’s mother and three children deserved for his death in a police shooting, she didn’t bother to listen to the rest of the verdict. She walked out of the courtroom, shaken.
“My heart just dropped,” Davis recalled. “It was like, are y’all serious?”
Four years earlier, her fiancee, Gregory Vaughn Hill Jr., who was black, had been shot behind his closing garage door by Christopher Newman, a white Florida sheriff’s deputy responding with a partner to a complaint of loud music. A grand jury declined to indict Newman, who said Hill had pulled a gun. Hill’s mother then filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Newman and his boss, St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara. The case went to trial this month, and on May 24 a jury cleared Newman, assigned a small bit of blame to Mascara and said Hill was almost entirely at fault because he was drunk.
The jury tallied up the damages: $1 for funeral expenses to Hill’s mother, and $1 each to Hill’s three children, aged 7, 10 and 13.
The decision astonished the family’s lawyer, John Phillips.
“I’d have rather seen a zero than have to tell the children that their pain and suffering for losing their father is only a dollar,” he said Thursday.
Which is what the family will probably get in the end.
Because the jury assigned just 1 percent of negligence to Mascara, that $4 in damages was automatically reduced to 4 cents, Phillips said. But even that was made irrelevant by the jury’s finding that Hill’s intoxication made him 99 percent negligent. In doing so, the jury effectively erased any damages, Phillips said.
That convoluted verdict left Phillips wondering whether the jury, after about 10 hours of deliberations, understood what it was doing — and if so, whether the jurors saw the damage amount as some sort of punishment.
“Either it was punitive or they viewed these children’s pain as virtually worthless,” Phillips said.