SAN FRANCISCO — A federal court on Tuesday upheld a multimillion-dollar judgment against Oakland over an arrest in which a parolee accused police officers of planting a rifle in his home.
Torry Smith, 27, was on felony parole in 2004 when two officers arrested him at his East Oakland home after finding his ATM card in a car belonging to a drug dealer's girlfriend. About a month before the arrest, Smith had told his parole officer that he had lost the card.
Officers John Parkinson and Marcus Midyett made the arrest after Parkinson said he had seen Smith carrying the gun and trying to hide it under the house's stairs.
Smith's girlfriend, Patricia Gray, joined him in the lawsuit, and they told jurors that they had never seen the gun before.
"In addition to that, Smith's parole officer was scheduled to do a search of the entire house later that day," said civil rights attorney John Burris, who represented Smith and Gray in the suit. "So, first, they didn't know anything about the gun, and second, even if they had, they wouldn't have kept it in the house with the parole officer on his way."
Smith was jailed for more than four months, and charges against him eventually were dropped.
The court initially awarded $5 million to Smith and Gray; that amount later was reduced to $3.2 million, which the city appealed to the 9th Circuit panel. Burris said the amount to be collected will be substantially higher than that because of interest and attorney fees.
City Attorney John Russo said the court ruled on "highly technical grounds" that did not address the "substance of our concerns" in what he called a "miscarriage of justice" at the trial level.
"I'm disappointed the court ruled on those grounds," he said. "But we accept the decision."
The city is weighing the possibility of appealing either to the U.S. Supreme Court or asking for a review by an 11-judge 9th Circuit panel, Russo said. It seems unlikely that the case would receive another hearing, however, especially because the three-judge panel that made the ruling said it should not be considered precedent for future cases.
Attorney Jim Chanin worked with Burris on the well-known police corruption "Riders" case in 2003 and helped fight the city's appeal.
"Most Oakland police do a really good job, and it's sad the bad apples haven't been rooted out by now," Chanin said. "There are some signs with the new chief that's starting to happen in the department, but not in city government yet. The government sees lawyers like us, and these lawsuits, as the problem. That's like the captain of the Titanic blaming the iceberg."
An internal police investigation cleared Parkinson and Midyett of wrongdoing in the arrest. Both men remain on the force: Parkinson is a homicide detective, and Midyett is a patrol officer.
Staff writer Kelly Rayburn contributed to this story.