Jurors: Golden Valley officer was too rough

  • Article by: PAT PHEIFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 13, 2007 - 11:33 PM

A Golden Valley man was awarded $778,000 in damages after a jury found he was a victim of excessive police force.

Three-quarters of a million dollars is, indeed, a lot of money, but no amount of money will help Al Hixon rebuild his life, his attorney says.

On Thursday, a federal jury awarded Hixon $328,000 in compensatory damages and $450,000 in punitive damages. Hixon, 47, had sued the city of Golden Valley and two of its police officers, claiming his civil rights were violated by excessive force, brutality and assault during a mistaken arrest.

Once attorneys' fees are added, the final judgment will be more than $1 million, said his attorney, Andrew Parker.

"The jury in a case like this acts as the conscience of the community," Parker said.

"This jury ... spoke out loudly in saying that when those who we give the legal authority to carry guns and use force abuse that power and authority, they must be held accountable," Parker added.

The eight-member jury found that officer Mario Hernandez used excessive force when arresting Hixon on April 2, 2005, but that officer Christine McCarville did not.

Attorney Jon Iverson, who represented the city and the officers, said he was "very disappointed" in the verdict. He said no decision has been made about whether to appeal.

Drama in a parking lot

Both Parker and Iverson said during closing arguments Tuesday that there is "a whopping disagreement" about what happened in the parking lot of the Sinclair gas station at 1875 N. Lilac Dr. on the Saturday afternoon in question.

There is no dispute that Hixon had taken his Jaguar out of winter storage and pulled into the station to get fresh oil. At the same time, a man -- implying he had a gun -- robbed a U.S. Bank branch inside a nearby Byerly's supermarket.

Officers responding to the scene heard over their radios that there was a white male suspect. Hixon is black. They also heard that a black van, possibly associated with the robbery, had pulled in the Sinclair station. When they arrived, the van was parked near Hixon's car.

That's where the stories diverge. Parker said Hixon moved four or five paces, seeking cover when he saw officers' guns pointed at the van and the gas pumps.

Iverson said Hixon ran, arms pumping. He said officers reasonably believed that he was associated with the suspect vehicle and used reasonable force to restrain him. Hernandez testified that Hixon first refused orders to stop, took his time getting on the ground and resisted being handcuffed.

McCarville testified Tuesday: "Both officer Hernandez and I are yelling at him to bring his left arm back. Then officer Hernandez says, 'I'll spray you if you don't bring your left arm back.' I don't remember the exact words. He continued to leave his arm right there, and then officer Hernandez sprayed him."

Hixon testified last week that he was pepper-sprayed after he was handcuffed. His lawsuit claimed that he feared McCarville was trying to kill or paralyze him when she dove onto his back and that Hernandez, who is 6-feet-6 and 270 pounds, stepped on his neck.

Hixon testified that he was "vomiting and coughing up mucous and blood, gasping for air" from the effects of the spray.

Although the manager of the Sinclair station told officers that Hixon was a longtime customer and was not involved in the bank robbery, he was taken to the police station and booked before paramedics were called and he was taken to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale. Charges of obstructing the legal process with force were later dropped.

Officer is 'wonderful man'

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    Thursday September 13, 2007

    The $778,000 that a federal jury awarded Al Hixon on Thursday is about midrange among top payouts in police misconduct...

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