Federal Judge Upholds $15 Million Civil Rights Verdict for Thomas Family

Civil Rights

In January 2018, Judge Barbara J. Rothstein of the Western District of Washington federal court upheld a jury verdict of more than $15 million awarded to the estate and surviving family members of Leonard Thomas, a young father who was shot by a SWAT sniper in 2013 while he stood on his front porch holding his four-year-old son in his arms.  

MHB attorneys Tim Ford, David Whedbee, and Tiffany Cartwright represented Leonard’s parents, Fred and Annalesa Thomas, and his son, Elijah Thomas.  Jack Connelly and Meaghan Driscoll of Connelly Law Offices represented Leonard’s estate.

Following the trial, the defendants filed more than 100 pages of post-trial motions asking the judge to set the jury’s verdict aside or reduce the amount awarded to the Thomas family.  Among many other things, the defendants argued—without any supporting evidence—that it was “clear” the jury’s decision was improperly influenced by “sentiment in the community about police excessive force against African-Americans,” and that the jurors were afraid “to go back to their individual communities and tell the people that they associate with, we found in favor of white cops that shot an unarmed black man.”

In a powerful 69-page order, Judge Rothstein rejected all of the defendants’ arguments.  Addressing the defendants’ jury bias argument, Judge Rothstein wrote:

The Court could not more strongly reject Defendants’ argument.  Without any evidence—without any factual foundation whatsoever—Defendants have chosen to malign one of this country’s most sacred civic institutions, the impartially selected petit jury.  . . .  

The suggestion that this jury flouted its charge and colluded to hold government officials liable merely to advance the jurors’ individual reputations is not simply frivolous; it is insulting to our constitutional order.  And the notion that the American justice system can be characterized by an illegitimate solicitude for black victims of alleged police misconduct is so painfully historical that one wonders whether Defendants advance this argument seriously.

Our firm has been proud to represent the Thomas family throughout this case, and Judge Rothstein’s order, in addition to the jury’s verdict, provides powerful vindication to their claims.  No family should have to experience the trauma and loss suffered by the Thomas family at the hands of police officers sworn to protect their communities, and this case shows that juries of ordinary citizens serve as an important check on the abuse of police power.

You can read Judge Rothstein’s entire order here

Additional coverage of the case and Judge Rothstein’s order can be found in the Seattle Times.


Attorneys who worked on this case:

Tiffany M. Cartwright, Tim Ford

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