Federal jury awards $1 to Rochester man in lawsuit against RPD officers

    A federal jury awarded $1 to Benny Warr, a Rochester man who accused three Rochester Police Department officers of excessive force. (Photo: MGN Online)

    Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) - A federal jury awarded $1 to Benny Warr, a Rochester man who accused three Rochester Police Department officers of excessive force.

    In May 2013, Warr was in a wheelchair on a sidewalk at Bartlett Street and Jefferson Avenue in Rochester where a group of people were gathered nearby. When Rochester Police officers ordered them to disperse, Warr stayed on the sidewalk. The officers then arrested Warr, but according to police, he resisted. Warr claimed that the officers pulled him from his wheelchair during that struggle and used pepper spray, hit multiple times and used an "elbow strike" before handcuffing him.

    Warr was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

    After a two-week trial, the jury ruled this week that two of the three officers - Officers Joseph Ferrigno and Mitchell Stewart - were not guilty of the charges brought against them. The third officer, Anthony Liberatore, was found to have used excessive force, but no harm was done, according to the jury. None of the officers were found guilty of assault or battery.

    The dollar that was awarded was a nominal damage, a symbolic settlement, to show that the officer was indeed guilty of wrongdoing, but no punitive damage amount was awarded to Warr. Federal court paperwork describes the nominal damage as a finding by the jury that Warr's constitutional rights were violated but there was not "sufficient injury to warrant any award of compensatory damages."

    Judge Marian Payson presided over the trial. The jury found Warr resisted arrest while in his wheelchair and flailed his arms, but did not hit any of the officers.

    James Sheppard, who was the Rochester Police Chief at the time of the incident, was initially part of the lawsuit but was dismissed due to a lack of evidence to justify any allegations against Sheppard.

    Rev. Lewis Stewart with the United Christian Leadership Ministry of Western New York, at a news conference Friday, called the result of the trial "insulting."

    "This verdict is unjust, inconsistent, inadequate and insufferable," Stewart said in a statement. "The jury’s verdict was utterly egregious against the weight of the evidence provided by Mr. Warr’s attorney. This jury failed to do what was right. They failed miserably in delivering a just verdict. They were deaf to racial injustice, blind to racial injustice, and mute when it came to arguing for truth"

    Stewart is called for a new trial, arguing the first was "inconsistent and prejudiced."

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