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Baseball Hall of Famer’s Damages Against LAPD Trimmed With AM-Taped Beating

September 16, 1992 GMT

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A federal appeals court Tuesday upheld a ruling that baseball Hall of Famer Joe Morgan was illegally seized by Los Angeles police at an airport but trimmed $200,000 from his $540,000 damage award.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 3-0 ruling, said the officer’s reasons for seizing Morgan consisted largely of a vague description that could have fit any black man.

But though Morgan ″has suffered a great injustice,″ Judge Dorothy Nelson wrote, the jury’s award of $300,000 in punitive damages for violation of his constitutional rights was excessive compared to similar cases and must be reduced by $200,000.


The court said the remaining damages should ″send to the Los Angeles Police Department yet another message that it must not and cannot abide police mistreatment of citizens.″ The March 1991 videotaped beating by four LAPD officers of motorist Rodney King led to nationwide debate on police brutality.

Morgan was handcuffed by white narcotics officer Clay Searle while making a telephone call at Los Angeles International Airport in March 1988. He was quickly released after a drug suspect said he didn’t recognize Morgan.

William A. Barnes, a lawyer for Morgan, said the officers had decided to ″jump on the next black guy that comes along″ and then made up a ″ridiculous lie″ that Morgan had been violent.

Assistant City Attorney Richard Helgeson, who represented the policeman and the city, did not return a telephone call.

Morgan, a second baseman who spent most of his career with the Cincinnati Reds, was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1990. He is now a businessman and a baseball television broadcaster.

An initial jury verdict in the officer’s favor was overruled by U.S. District Judge Mariana Pfaelzer, who said Morgan’s detention was unjustified even if the officer’s account were true. A second jury then awarded Morgan $90,000 for pain and distress and $450,000 in punitive damages.

Nelson said Pfaelzer must re-evaluate the other $150,000 in punitive damages, for battery and false imprisonment, after examining Searle’s financial status.