A federal jury on Friday ordered two Dallas police officers to pay a total of $169,000 to a man who spent 10 months locked up on false charges.
Following a weeklong trial, a seven-member civil jury found that Senior Cpl. David Nevitt and Officer Jerry Dodd maliciously prosecuted and violated the constitutional rights of Thomas Hannon by hiding the existence of a video that showed he did not possess a bag containing drugs and a gun.
“The jury’s verdict sends the message that even police officers have to be accountable for their actions to all citizens,” said Hannon’s attorney.
A third officer sued in the case, Randy Sundquist, was found to have maliciously prosecuted Hannon but was not ordered to pay damages.
Attorneys for the officers, who denied lying about the video and claimed they made an honest mistake, did not return calls seeking comment. All are still on the force, and it is unclear if the city will pay any portion of their judgments.
It is also unclear whether Nevitt and Dodd will remain employed. Questions about that put to the Police Department on Friday were referred to Dallas city spokesman Frank Librio, who issued a one-sentence statement: “The Dallas Police Department will review the Thomas Hannon case to assess options as to further actions needed.”
Hannon, a 42-year-old felon, sued the officers after he spent 10 months in the Dallas County Jail awaiting trial on charges that he had been carrying a black bag containing methamphetamine and a .357-caliber revolver.
The day he was to be tried in 2008, his attorney at the time, James Whalen, gave prosecutors a copy of a motel surveillance video clearly showing that Hannon was not in possession of the bag.
Prosecutors immediately dropped the case, and the Police Department launched an internal affairs review of why no one knew about the exculpatory video. Nevitt was suspended for 15 days, but that was reduced by former Chief David Kunkle to five days.
The video was not mentioned in Hannon’s arrest report, prepared by Dodd. Instead, the report stated that Nevitt saw Hannon with the bag at the motel that day.
Authorities later determined that Nevitt had viewed the video the day Hannon was arrested. When the video surfaced on the eve of Hannon’s trial, Nevitt claimed that the version he saw at the motel was unclear.
Still, he said he used it as probable cause to charge Hannon with having the bag.
When asked by plaintiff’s attorneys this week why, if he believed the video incriminated Hannon, Nevitt never returned to the motel to retrieve a copy to log into evidence, the 31-year police veteran said that he was too busy — for 10 months.
Sundquist, who was Nevitt and Dodd’s supervising sergeant at the time, was present the day Hannon was arrested but did not watch the video at the motel. He said he trusted Nevitt and did not think he had to double-check his interpretation of what the video showed.
“I wish I had,” he told jurors.
Sundquist has a troubled past. In 1994, the district attorney’s office barred him from testifying as a prosecution witness because he lied in a case. A review found he had been allowed to testify anyway over the years.
Nevitt has also been barred from testifying in court cases after his role in the Hannon case. It’s unclear if Dodd, currently assigned to the vice squad, will suffer the same fate.
Among the witnesses this week were two prosecutors who told jurors that Nevitt lied to them to cover up the existence of the video. Nevitt took the stand Thursday and denied lying to prosecutors.
Jurors ordered Nevitt and Dodd to pay Hannon $93,500 for mental anguish and wrongful incarceration. Jurors slapped Nevitt with an additional $75,000 punitive damages claim, and an additional $500 on Dodd.
Three other arresting officers, David Durica and Frank Poblenz and Lawrence Coddington Jr., were originally listed in the suit, but were dropped as defendants.
The case illustrates how dishonesty can derail the fragile criminal justice system, a veteran prosecutor said.
“When police don’t document evidence or information isn’t relayed to the prosecutor, this careful system we have in place breaks down,” said Richard Roper, former U.S. attorney in Dallas and a longtime prosecutor who had no involvement in the Hannon case. “A guy stayed in jail when he shouldn’t have.”
The officers in question are probably incensed that they are now indebted to a convicted felon, but should understand why, Roper said.
“The great thing about our nation is that civil rights apply to all, everyone, even the most pernicious members of our society,” he said. “The whole integrity of our criminal justice system would fail if that weren’t the case.”
If you are seeking aggressive criminal representation by an experienced criminal defense attorney for your Denton county theft case case or arrest in Denton County, contact the offices of Tim Powers today. There is no charge or obligation for the initial consultation. 940.580.2899.
*Tim Powers is an attorney licensed to practice law by the Supreme Court of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For legal advice about any specific legal question you should directly consult an attorney."