Of Counsel attorney Robert J. Levant secured a $10 million verdict for a man who spent nearly four years in jail after a Philadelphia police officer falsely accused him of firing a gun at him. The verdict, handed down by Philadelphia jurors in May 2018, is reportedly the largest-ever civil verdict for police misconduct in Philadelphia.
Khanefah Boozer and several friends were returning from a
night out at a bar on Jan. 22, 2011, when one of his friends fired a handgun
several times in the air. After witnessing the incident, Boozer chastised his
friend for firing the gun, said goodbye to his friends, and drove away. Moments
later, he was stopped by police who heard the gunshots while they were
investigating a burglary nearby.
Although Boozer explained that it was his friend who had
fired the gun, the investigating officers did not find any weapons on his friends
and let them go without questioning. Boozer was later arrested for aggravated
assault as a felony of the first degree, violations of the Uniform Firearms Act,
and related offenses after Officer Ryan Waltman falsely claimed that Boozer had
fired a gun at him.
Police recovered no gun, found no forensic evidence to
support the allegation that Waltman had been shot at, and developed no
corroborating evidence that Boozer possessed or fired a gun that night. But as
a result of Waltman’s false accusation, which other officers attempted to
corroborate in various ways, Boozer was criminally charged by the Philadelphia
District Attorney. His bail was set at $500,000, which he could not afford, and
he remained in jail until September 2014 when he was acquitted by a jury.
At the criminal trial, Boozer’s friend who fired the gun
testified to Boozer’s version of the events, notwithstanding the obvious
jeopardy of doing so. He testified that he stashed the gun in the glove box of
his car, which was parked on the street, when he heard police coming. His car
was identified in police photos and paperwork as being at the scene during the
Boozer’s civil lawsuit included claims of false arrest, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, malicious prosecution and civil conspiracy.
At a news conference following the $10 million verdict,
Levant said that the 12 jurors from all different backgrounds sent a very loud,
strong and clear message that the citizens of Philadelphia will not tolerate
police abusing their authority.
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