A federal jury yesterday awarded $80,000 to a Baltimore woman who was accused of writing a bad check at Paramount's Kings Dominion, was locked up for a night and spent almost a year preparing for trial before charges were dropped.
A U.S. District Court jury in Greenbelt awarded the damages to Stephanic P. Austin for false arrest, malicious prosecution and civil rights claims she filed against Paramount Parks, which owns Kings Dominion.
The jury deliberated two days before awarding Austin $40,000 in compensatory damages for deprivation of her civil rights, false arrest and malicious prosecution. The jury awarded $40,000 in punitive damages against Paramount Parks for withholding evidence for nearly a year that someone else had been charged.
Niccolo N. Donzella, Austin's lawyer, said the verdict shows that Kings Dominion should be held accountable, but he called the amount of the award "a slap on the wrist." He had filed claims for $36 million.
Austin, 26, was a student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County when she was arrested at the park May 21, 1994, and accused of writing a bad check there six days before.
Donzella claimed the incident made her lose her sense of security, do poorly in school and delay graduation. He also said that Austin learned, after waiting 11 months for trial, that the Virginia amusement park had caught the real crook the day after Austin's arrest.
"They turned a year of her life into a living hell, treated her like a nonperson whose life and rights simply did not matter. We asked the jury to hold them accountable, and they have," Donzella said.
But Dan Hough, a Kings Dominion spokesman, said that the company did nothing wrong.
Kings Dominion attorneys said that Austin was irate, abusive and refused to give the park's private police force the names of people who could support her account. And, they said, she told officers she would sue.
"Lawsuit was on [her] mind from the get-go," said Steven McCallum, an attorney who gave closing arguments for the defense.
Hough would not comment on the amount of the judgment.
Pub Date: 7/31/97