Firefighter Wins $17,500 after Bad Arrest
By: Gerri L. Elder
In Hazelwood, Missouri, on February 13, 2008, jurors in federal court decided that the Hazelwood police officer who arrested a fire captain at the scene of a 2003 car wreck was wrong to the tune of $17,500.
Officer Todd Greeves arrested Capt. David Wilson because they had a disagreement about where Wilson had parked the fire truck. Wilson testified at the trial that the Robertson Fire Protection District fire truck had been parked in such a way so that it would protect the rescue workers as they attempted to free a victim from a car that was involved in the crash on the Interstate.
When Greeves ordered that the fire truck be moved so that traffic could pass through the area, Wilson ignored him and continued working. Greeves then arrested Wilson, who was never charged. He was held for 23 minutes.
Wilson filed a lawsuit against Greeves and the City of Hazelwood, alleging that his civil rights were violated and he suffered anxiety and humiliation as a result of the arrest.
In court, Greeves explained to the jury that the fire truck was actually causing a hazard at the scene and was not protecting anyone’s safety. However, it was the testimony that the jury heard about Greeves, rather than from him, that had an impact on the case.
Although Greeves’ defense attorney objected, jurors heard that there had been other complaints about Greeves. He had also been the subject of an internal investigation that found he had used excessive force during a 2002 arrest.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Ann Medler ruled that the state law favored Wilson and that Greeves had no probable cause to make the arrest. She also dismissed the case against the city of Hazelwood, leaving only Greeves as a defendant.
The jury awarded Wilson $7,500 in compensatory damages and $10,000 in punitive damages. After the verdict jurors commented that they wanted to make an impact on Greeves and send a message that this type of outrageous behavior will not be tolerated, but that they went easy on him because they knew that he has a family to support and were not sure who would have to pay the damages.
One of Wilson’s lawyers told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that police departments and fire departments had been watching the case closely for a determination as to which department is in control of a fire scene.
The lawyer who represented Greeve’s in the case told reporters that Hazelwood’s insurance would not cover the costs, however Wilson’s lawyer said that he thinks that the city’s insurance would pay the compensatory damages and possibly even the punitive damages as well. Greeves will likely have to pay his own lawyer’s fees.