After deliberating for more than five hours Wednesday, a federal court jury ruled that Roderick Shelby Jr. violated a teenager’s rights by beating him in an incident last year at the juvenile detention center.
The 11-member jury awarded Karen Walls, the mother of the teenager, Chadarious Avery, $6,003 in compensatory damages.No punitive damages were awarded by the jury.
“They asked for $400,000 and after spending three days in federal court they got $6,003,” said Shelby’s attorney, Gene McKissic. “We can’t cry and now both families can put this behind them and go on.”
The jury held Shelby liable in an individual capacity only, meaning he will be responsible for paying the damages to Walls and Avery.
Wednesday morning, federal Judge Kristine Baker agreed to defense motions that removed Sheriff Gerald Robinson in both his individual and official capacities, and Shelby in his official capacity only, from the suit.
Walls and Avery had also sued Robinson, claiming he failed to train and supervise Shelby, who was a part-time sheriff’s deputy, and is also the Chief of Staff for Juvenile Judge Earnest E. Brown Jr.
Robinson argued successfully that Shelby and another juvenile officer, Jose Rivera, were not employees of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department nor were they under the supervision of Robinson at the time of the incident.
Walls filed a criminal complaint against Shelby that was investigated by the Arkansas State Police. The results were forwarded to prosecutor S. Kyle Hunter, who said he would not file criminal charges against Shelby.
Hunter said there was “not sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Shelby committed a criminal battery.”
Robinson also ordered an internal investigation conducted by Capt. Terry Peckham, who determined that Shelby violated department policy on use of force and other areas, and Robinson fired Shelby from his position as a part-time officer.
Rivera, who was initially named in the lawsuit, then dropped, was with Shelby and was escorting Avery back to a cell at the detention center after an appearance in court when the incident occurred.
Avery and his attorney, Jason Boyeskie of Fayetteville, contended that Shelby attacked Avery in a hallway leading to the detention center from the courtroom. Shelby argued that he was defending himself from an attack by Avery, who was 14 at the time.
“The jury found liability (against Shelby) on all counts and that’s what we were looking for,” Boyeskie said after the verdict. “We think it was a fair verdict.”
Regarding the court ruling that Shelby could be held liable only on his individual capacity, Boyeskie said it shows that if a person violates policy procedures and gets into trouble, “they would have to write the check because their employer is not going to cover them.”
“This was a grown man attacking and battering a 14-year-old,” Boyeskie said during his closing arguments. “Use your experience. What would injuries be like to a teenager who was hit hard enough to break a grown man’s hand? How much force would that take?”
Earlier testimony indicated Shelby was treated for a broken hand, while Avery received cuts and bruises and was treated and released from Health Care Plus after the incident on April 18, 2011.
Boyeskie described Shelby’s actions as like “a bull in a china shop,” while McKissic said Shelby was defending himself against Avery, who hit Shelby first.
“Being 14 years old does not excuse what he did,” McKissic said in his closing. “The late Judge Randall Williams had a saying that ‘when you cuss like a man, and square up and fight like a man, then take the consequences like a man.’”
On the day of the incident, Avery was ordered out of court after he reportedly cursed his court-appointed attorney, then Judge Brown, and finally Shelby while being escorted back to the detention center part of the building.
McKissic also asked the jury to award Walls and Avery no money.
“If you give him money today, then tomorrow every foul-mouthed juvenile in the state will be cursing some juvenile officer hoping to get money,” McKissic said.
McKissic also made reference to testimony from Rivera, who was an eyewitness to the incident and said Avery “threw the first two punches.”
“A 14-year-old can hurt you rather seriously and you have a right to protect yourself,” McKissic said. “Avery was not in the detention center because he was attending Sunday School.”
Baker ruled Monday that attorneys for Shelby and Robinson could not present evidence as to why Avery was in the detention center or his alleged gang affiliation.