Trials & Litigation

Tattoos Could Ring Up Punitives in Arrestee's Civil Rights Case

Despite his extensive tattoos, Christopher Russo was arrested and jailed for the better part of a year after he was mistaken for a Connecticut gas station armed robbery suspect who had none.

Eventually, prosecutors reviewed surveillance tape of the 2002 crime, as Russo had pleaded with them to do, and realized the mistake, recounts the Connecticut Law Tribune in an article reprinted in New York Lawyer (reg. req.). But now Russo is seeking punitive damages from the city of Bridgeport in a federal civil rights case that has already made it to the New York City-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (which reinstated the case) and the U.S. Supreme Court. And, his lawyer predicts, Russo may actually get them.

Although Burton Weinstein says he has never seen such damages awarded against a municipality in his nearly 50 years of law practice—and, it would appear, another appeal by the city is virtually certain if Russo does get punitives—a recent deposition and a judge’s reliance on the deposition when denying the city’s motion to dismiss gives him hope. Jeremy DePietro, a city police officer, indicated in the deposition that he may never have been told he had to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense. And, Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Chatigny held when he denied the city’s dismissal motion, a jury could find this shows the city didn’t train him properly.

“There’s never been a decision that held a city separately liable on its own for punitive damages,” Weinstein tells the legal publication. “This will be a first impression issue.”

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