Plaintiff assaulted by then-Pittsburgh detective in road rage told his case of city liability weak
A Squirrel Hill man will get one last chance on Thursday to persuade eight federal jurors to blame Pittsburgh officials for a May 2010 road-rage incident in which an off-duty police detective attacked him.
Jarret Fate, 32, argues that the city caused the assault by allowing former police Detective Bradley Walker to carry a badge and gun, despite at least four previous instances in which the Office of Municipal Investigations found valid complaints that Walker used excessive force.
“If the officer felt he could use his police authority because he hadn't been fired, because he hadn't been assigned to a desk job, that's causation,” said Fate's lawyer, Joshua Autry.
U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab said it will be up to the jurors hearing this week's trial to decide whether the city is liable, but he agreed that Fate failed to show that former police Chief Nate Harper and Assistant Chief George Trosky are liable for Walker's actions.
Michael Kennedy, the city's lawyer, argued Wednesday that Autry failed to produce any witness to testify that Walker would have acted differently on May 1, 2010, if the city had fired him before.
Walker shattered Fate's driver's-side window, cracked his windshield, repeatedly choked Fate and drew a gun on bystanders after a fender-bender on the Parkway East.
An Allegheny County judge in January 2011 convicted Walker of assault and three other charges and sentenced him to four years of probation. The city fired Walker.
Witnesses called by Fate and the city confirmed that personnel regulations, a union contract and arbitration decisions confine police administrators in disciplining officers, he said
If the Office of Municipal Investigations — Pittsburgh's equivalent of internal affairs— didn't sustain a complaint, there was little that Harper and Trosky could do, Schwab said. In cases in which the office did sustain a complaint, they disciplined Walker, the judge said.
“The mere fact that someone could have been fired doesn't mean they should have been fired,” Schwab said.
A key question in the case is whether Walker was acting as a police officer or a private citizen when he committed the assault.
If the jury decides he acted as a private citizen, the city is off the hook. If the jury decides he acted as a police officer, it still has to determine that the city's policies and practices led to the incident.
Fate testified that he didn't know until a few days after the assault that Walker was a police officer.
“I didn't believe a police officer would act like that, so I was in a little disbelief,” he said.
If the jury would find the city liable, it can't award Fate punitive damages but can award compensatory damages for, medical bills; pain and suffering; and the damage that Walker did to Fate's car.
Testimony in the case ended Wednesday. Both sides will make their closing arguments on Thursday, followed by the jury starting deliberations.
Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or firstname.lastname@example.org.