New York Man Paralyzed by Police Bullet Loses Award

June 6, 2008

A New York man who was initially awarded $76.4 million by a jury after he was shot and paralyzed by a police officer 20 years ago will now get nothing except a bill for $100 in court costs, the state’s highest court has ruled.

The Court of Appeals refused to hear Darryl Barnes’ attempt to recoup the millions that two different juries ordered the city to pay him before the awards were reversed by a midlevel appeals court.

The court issued a terse, one-line decision on Tuesday, saying, “Motion for leave to appeal denied with one hundred dollars costs and necessary reproduction disbursements.” That ruling ends the case, the city Law Department said.

Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo, the city’s top lawyer, said after the ruling, “This case became a poster child for the need for tort reform.”

After 20 years and tens of thousands of dollars the city spent on legal costs, Cardozo said, “We’re very pleased that the Court of Appeals refused to entertain Barnes’ arguments, thereby ending the case.”

The case began Aug. 22, 1988, when Officer Franz Jerome saw Barnes running with a Tec-9 semiautomatic pistol. Prosecutors said Jerome identified himself as a police officer and asked Barnes to stop. After a chase, Barnes fired and Jerome fired back, hitting Barnes and causing severe spinal injuries, they said.

Barnes has claimed that he was shot in the back at point-blank range after dropping a gun he picked up during a nearby fight with two young men, and that he did not see Jerome, who was not in uniform.

After the first trial in April 1998, the jury awarded Barnes $76.4 million, which the trial judge reduced to $8.9 million.

The city appealed, arguing the trial court had improperly excluded proof that Barnes was a member of an anti-white, anti-police group that advocates violent resistance to arrest.

Barnes failed to show up and testify at the second trial in March 2003, claiming he was too mentally and physically ill. The jury awarded him $51 million, which the trial judge reduced to $10.75 million.

The appeals judges said they reversed the second verdict and dismissed the case because Barnes, now 42, stayed away from the trial without showing he was physically or mentally unfit to participate.

Barnes’ lawyer, Robert Simels, said Tuesday that he would review whether he could take the case to federal court. He said the Court of Appeals had effectively upheld a decision that was “1,000 percent wrong.”

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