Suspect Swings at Cop, Lands St. Louis Police Board a Black Eye, and Taxpayers Foot the Bill

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Complaint from dumb man proves justice is, indeed, blind.
Complaint from dumb man proves justice is, indeed, blind.
There's a lot that just doesn't add up in a federal jury's decision yesterday to award $865,000 to a man who provoked cops during his arrest and then allegedly fell victim to the rough treatment he asked for.

Actually, perhaps I phrased that wrong. Kenneth Rohrbough didn't "ask" for anything -- at least not in a language resembling English. A car accident thirty years ago left the 55-year-old Rohrbough with severe speech problems. Instead he communicates in a "mix of descriptive and unintelligible words and gestures." This much, though, is clear:

Back in 2002 Rohbrough stumbled into an optometrist office in Old North St. Louis, caused a disturbance and damaged property. When the police were called to the scene, Rohbrough turned to officer Luther Hall and put up his fists in a defensive posture. Then he took a swing at the cop.

Hall dodged the punch, grabbed Rohrbough by the arm and cuffed him.

After the arrest, Rohrbough alleges that Hall punched him in the gut and allowed an unidentified cop to beat him with a flashlight, baton and baseball bat.

The case first went to trial back in April, resulting in a hung jury. During that trial, Rohrbough was reportedly friendly with Hall. Per a Post-Dispatch article from April: "Rohrbough did not seem to have an issue with Hall; during cross-examination, he said Hall had been nice to him."

But that's not the message the jury got this week in ruling that Hall used excessive force and failed to intervene to protect Rohrbough from the mysterious cop who allegedly beat him with weaponry described above.

This is not the first time Hall has been accused of violating the civil rights of arrestees. In 2003 environmental activists in south city accused Hall and several other officers of violating their civil rights during a questionable police raid in which officers strip searched individuals in the public. That federal case was eventually dismissed on appeal.

Yet the case involving Rohrbough never seemed to be as much about Hall as it was an indictment of the police board. Rohrbough's attorneys presented statistics to the court showing that between 1997 and 2002 just one of the 322 complaints of abuse at the hands of police had been sustained by the board. Even the judge -- Richard Webber -- joined in the chorus writing in a 2008 pre-trial ruling in the case that the police board turned a "blind eye" to abuse complaints.

And while the jury this week did not find the police board at fault, it may as well have. Yesterday the Post-Dispatch questioned the police department as to who would pay the whopping $865,000 awarded to Rohrbough. The department declined to speculate but unless the "nice" officer Hall and his mysterious evil sidekick have very lucrative side jobs, it's unlikely they'll have the money to pay the judgment. That leaves the board (ie. St. Louis taxpayers) to foot the bill.

Either way it's a nice payday for Rohrbough (and his attorneys). Still, I can't help but think that there are other victims of police abuse who'd be a lot more worthy of retribution than a man who -- disabilities aside -- puts up his dukes when confronted by the police. 

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