$6.34 Million Jury Verdict in Excessive Force and Negligence Suit

On January 3rd, 2018, Sahleem Tindle was shot and killed near the West Oakland BART station, by BART Officer Joseph Mateu. Mateu had responded to the sound of gunshots and arrived to find Sahleem and another man struggling over a weapon on the sidewalk. He ordered both men to separate and though video footage shows Sahleem raising his empty left hand, Mateu responded by firing three shots into his back.

In speaking about Sahleem’s case, civil rights attorney and NPAP Board Member John Burris described the pivotal nature of the video evidence of the encounter, which showed that Sahleem’s right hand was caught by the man he was struggling with; in other words, he could not physically surrender any more visibly than by raising his empty left hand. This fact was pivotal to the first phase of the trial (tried in two parts), which focused on an excessive force charge against Officer Mateu. The second phase focused on negligence. In March the jury ruled in the first phase of the trial that Sahleem’s federal civil rights had been violated, and that Officer Mateu had used excessive force in his response to Sahleem’s surrender. The jury awarded $5.7 million in damages to Sahleem’s estate for this phase. In the second phase, the jury found that both Sahleem and Officer Mateu had been negligent in their actions and determined that Sahleem accounted for 68% of this negligence. On the basis of this the jury diminished the damages awarded to Sahleem’s children by 68%, resulting in a total of $608,000 to be shared between the two descendants (source: Mercury News).

There is an unspeakable loss in any occurrence such as this–Sahleem was 28 at the time of his death, and his two children and girlfriend were present when he was killed–but we must remember his name and the circumstances of the mistakes if we are to prevent their recurrence. Speaking in an interview following the verdict, John Burris discussed the way that “cases present opportunities–they present opportunities beyond the four corners of that individual case itself; that case itself may allow for you to bring about some change.” Hopefully this will be one such case.

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