[floridaleft] [news/FL] Justice is fleeting in shamed man's eyes (fwd)

Michael Hoover hoov at SPAMfreenet.tlh.fl.us
Thu Jan 11 16:50:53 MST 2001


forwarded by Michael Hoover

> Justice is fleeting in shamed man's eyes
>
> A Haitian humiliated by being searched at an Eckerd drugstore wins
> $110,000 from a jury, only to have the judge lower the award to
> $100.
>
> By THOMAS C. TOBIN
>
> =A9 St. Petersburg Times, published January 7, 2001
>
>
> WAUCHULA -- After a one-day trial, the lawyers kept their closing
> arguments mercifully short, and now the case would be decided by
> three women and three men who reflected the growing diversity of
> rural Hardee County.
>
> Four of them were white and one Hispanic. The lone black juror, a
> former sheriff's deputy, would be the foreman.
>
> Normil Normius, the 33-year-old Haitian immigrant who had filed the
> lawsuit, told his attorney he believed they would "do the right
> thing."
>
> He wanted damages for a degrading search that took place when two
> employees suspected him of shoplifting at an Eckerd drugstore in
> this town of 3,200 people southeast of Tampa Bay.
>
> After deliberating two hours, the jury sided with Normius, awarding
> him $110,000.
>
> But the victory would be momentary.
>
> Calling the verdict "clearly outrageous," Eckerd Corp. attorney Sam
> Henderson asked County Judge Robert Earl Collins to reduce the
> award, and the judge obliged.
>
> "I'm going to amend it and award Mr. Normius $100," Collins said.
>
> Normius' attorney, Edward M. Murphy, was stunned.
>
> "What was that, your honor?"
>
> His client had still won; the judge agreed a wrong had been
> committed. He just didn't think the company was $110,000 in the
> wrong.
>
> It was the judge's way of saying the jury got carried away, an
> option available to him under state law.
>
> Four months later, it is Normius and his attorneys who are outraged,
> along with the jury foreman, who says the judge dishonored a sincere
> effort by the panel to reach a fair verdict.
>
> To be sure, the case is staler than a Christmas cookie in January.
> The trial was in September, and the incident occurred on a hot
> August afternoon in 1994. Even the judge has moved on. He was voted
> out of office in the fall primary.
>
> For Normius, however, the case remains painfully fresh for reasons
> that involve Haitian culture.
>
> "It affects me a lot, because, from my country, if you're a thief,
> people are not allowed to talk to you," Normius said in a recent
> interview.
>
> The Haitian culture's strong condemnation of stealing was a key
> element in the pleadings filed by Normius' attorneys.
>
> It goes back to the legend of Henry Christophe, who ruled Haiti as
> king from 1811 to 1820, said Bryant C. Freeman, a Haitian scholar at
> the University of Kansas. To discourage stealing, Freeman said, the
> king circulated a story that he left pots of gold out by the
> roadside, but also decreed that anyone trying to take them would be
> harshly punished.
>
> Today, if you ask Haitian parents whether they want their daughter
> to be a prostitute or a thief, they will answer prostitute, Freeman
> said. "That's the traditional Haitian attitude toward stealing," he
> said. "Stealing is really a no-no."
>
> Kennedy Legler of Bradenton, one of Normius' attorneys, said his
> client continues to press the case because Haitians would think he
> was guilty of stealing if he didn't.
>
> "I cannot let it go," Normius said.
>
> On the day of his alleged theft, it had been only three months since
> Normius left Haiti to start a new life in Florida, picking citrus
> with his parents in the orchards of Hardee County. He had returned
> from English class at an adult education center in Wauchula and
> wanted to take a shower, but there was no soap in the house. With $5
> from his mother, he rode a bike to the Eckerd store, paid $4.75 for
> two bars of Tone bath soap and some Cutex nail polish, and walked
> out the door.
>
> The alarm sounded, but, new to the United States, Normius said he
> didn't know what it was. He continued walking and got on his bike
> before he was stopped by two female Eckerd employees, including the
> manager.
>
> He said the women grabbed his bag, ordered him back into an office,
> and used hand signals to tell him to empty his pockets. He said they
> searched his wallet, then motioned to remove his shirt, shoes, socks
> and pants -- all in view of other customers.
>
> Normius rode home humiliated and depressed. That night, his father
> took him to the emergency room after he coughed up blood. He says
> the problem persisted for months.
>
> Eckerd says Normius was hurriedly pedaling away, and that the
> manager simply "asked" him to return to the store. The company says
> the manager patted her pockets to ask whether he had anything in his
> pockets. When she signaled to ask if he had anything in his socks,
> Normius removed them and she "quickly contested," saying that was
> not necessary.
>
> When she told Normius he could go, he misinterpreted her again and
> opened his shirt and pulled down his pants, according to the
> company's pleadings.
>
> The company also contends that Normius' illness was never proved at
> trial.
>
> Normius has appealed the $100 award to the 2nd District Court of
> Appeal, which likely will deal with two opposing currents under
> state law. One is the notion that the "reasonable actions of a jury"
> are fundamental to the justice system and should only be reversed
> with great caution. The other is the idea that juries can abuse
> their power, become too emotionally involved in a case or
> misperceive the evidence. With the latter thought in mind, state law
> allows a judge to reduce an award under certain circumstances.
>
> Former Judge Collins could not be reached for comment, but his final
> order said the jury's decision was not supported by the evidence,
> was "grossly excessive" and "shocked the conscience of the court."
>
> Most judges are loath to substitute their judgment for a jury's, but
> it does happen, according to several Tampa Bay area lawyers
> interviewed for this story.
>
> At the trial, jurors heard from one Eckerd employee, as well as
> Normius and his parents. They also were given statements from
> Normius' doctors.
>
> Kelvin Lindsey, the jury foreman who feels "let down" by the ruling,
> said he and his fellow jurors did not base their verdict on emotion.
> "It was a struggle," he said. "We put our minds to it. What if this
> was you?"
>
> They felt Eckerd did not present enough evidence, Lindsey said. They
> noted that Normius didn't resist the store manager. And they didn't
> buy the employee's testimony that no one wanted Normius to undress,
> he said.
>
> They saw it as a civil rights violation and wanted, he said, to send
> a message: "If you've got security equipment in your establishment,
> make sure it works and follow your procedures." A former deputy for
> the Osceola and Hardee county sheriff's offices, Lindsey added:
> "When you're doing procedures that even law enforcement can't do,
> there's a problem here."
>
> Eckerd spokeswoman Tami Alderman said in a statement: "We feel the
> judicial process ran its course and the judge's actions were part of
> that process. Eckerd respects the process and the judge's actions."





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