A Tucson police officer was found liable this week by a federal jury for use of excessive force and for battery for his handling of a 2015 loud party call that led to a UA student-athlete suffering a concussion that ended his competitive track and field career.
The jury’s verdict came on top of a directed verdict issued mid-trial by U.S. District Judge Jennifer Zipps that Officer Troy Lansdale violated Miles Parish’s Fourth Amendment rights on Dec. 14, 2015 when the officer placed his foot in the doorway of Parish’s residence without a lawful reason to do so.
As a result, the jury awarded Parish $275,000 in damages against Lansdale. There will also be a bill coming to the city in the next few weeks for attorney’s fees that court observers say could run $100,000 or more for the five years Parish’s legal team worked the case.
The one consolation for the city is that the eight jurors determined the Tucson Police Department (TPD) did not have an unwritten policy or custom of requiring or encouraging its police officers to place a foot in a doorway even if there is no lawful reason to do so.
Miles Parish came to UA in 2013 on a scholarship with hopes of making the 2016 Olympics team. Those plans ended after Parish suffered a concussion, which medical witnesses testified was most likely caused by one of four punches Lansdale made to the back of Parish’s head as officers held him face down on the ground.
Parish sued the city, Lansdale, Officer Bradley Kush, and then-Chief Roberto Villasenor in December 2016. The trial started May 25, and jurors heard from a number of witnesses, including Lansdale and Kush, as well as TPD Chief Chris Magnus who became chief just weeks after the incident. They also viewed a cellphone video recorded by a witness of Parish being arrested outside his residence.
The $275,000 award of damages is well below the $4 million award Parish’s attorneys suggested to the jury for what was described as the young man’s “loss of the American Dream.” However, it was well above the $60,000 the city offered Parish to settle his claims a few years ago.
Lansdale testified putting his foot in the doorway to keep the door open was a customary action for officer safety even though there was no indication the people in Parish’s residence posed any threat. Another officer called the foot-in-the-door maneuver reasonable and testified that it was an “expected thing” for officers to do, regardless of potential constitutional issues.
Parish went to Banner UMC after being released from jail. He suffered facial contusions, wrist spasms, and dental injuries, as well as the concussion which affected his coordination. Jurors heard testimony that Parish eventually rejoined the team but was not able to duplicate his past speed or success.
Court records show Parish was later issued a “red tag” for violating the city’s noise ordinance. He was also criminally charged with resisting arrest and obstruction of government process charges which were dismissed by the city attorney’s office.
The jury asked two questions during deliberations, including an explanation of obstruction of government process. The other question asked whether a settlement had been offered to Parish, and if so, how much.
Zipps explained to the jurors that neither question was relevant to their deliberations of the issues of the lawsuit.
Lansdale’s use of force was deemed justified by a TPD Internal Affairs investigation, but he was given a written reprimand for violating several department general orders in his handling of the call.