A man whose neck was broken during his 1997 arrest by Baltimore police officers was awarded $39 million yesterday by a city Circuit Court jury.
The plaintiff, 39-year-old Jeffrey Adrian Alston, now a quadriplegic who receives around-the-clock care at a nursing home in Ellicott City, was present in the courtroom when the verdict was returned against police Officers Lewis Yamin and Mark Warble, said his attorneys, Kerry D. Staton and Philip Federico.
"He was gratified," said Staton, describing Alston's reaction to the verdict in his civil lawsuit against the officers, filed in 1998.
Because the officers were acting for the city, the city is liable for the damages, the plaintiff's lawyers said.
But a city legal official said the verdict may be appealed.
"The city will look at possible post-trial motions and appeal if merited," said Acting City Solicitor Donald Huskey.
Alston was arrested in a traffic stop Nov. 3, 1997, in the 4800 block of Reisterstown Road. He had been stopped for speeding, and was being taken in a police van for an alcohol test when the injury occurred, according to a police account at the time.
Warble and Yamin told police investigators that Alston caused his own injuries. They said they placed Alston in the van after they smelled alcohol on his breath and that he stood in the van during his transport and fell, Huskey said last night.
But Alston's lawyers alleged that Warble - driver of the van - broke Alston's neck when he put the man in a headlock. Yamin was supervisor of the van, according to the attorneys.
In its verdict, the jury found that Warble had committed assault and battery against Alston, and that he and Yamin had violated the man's constitutional rights, were grossly negligent in their conduct, caused his injuries and acted with malice.
A third officer who was sued, Michael Gentile, who Federico said had helped in the arrest, was found by the jury to have been negligent and acted in malice, but not to have caused the injury. He was found not liable for the damages, Federico said.
The jury awarded Alston $559,334 to cover past medical expenses, $8.5 million for future medical expenses, and $30 million in "non-economic" damages including pain and suffering, embarrassment and humiliation.
The police officers were represented by Troy Priest, a lawyer who was hired by the city. He could not be reached for comment last night.