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$170,000 to Man After Detective "Went Too Far"

by Christopher Zoukis

Truck driver Frank McClellan, 36, was awarded $150,000 in compensatory damages and another $20,000 in punitive exemplary damages against a Rensselaer, New York police detective for numerous Fourth Amendment violations. The detective plans to appeal the verdict.

On November 16, 2000, McClellan was unloading his vehicle when, he claimed, Detective Steve Smith, who was in plain clothes and an unmarked vehicle, honked his vehicle's horn and flipped his middle finger at McClellan. McClellan returned the gesture, prompting Smith to stop, drive back, and trap McClellan between the two vehicles.

Smith yelled, "Who the fuck do you think you're giving the finger to? I'm a cop." McClellan, who did not believe him, asked for his identification. Smith refused and opened his door into McClellan. McClellan held the door, saying he wouldn't let Smith out until he produced identification.

Smith eventually pushed the door open, knocking McClellan back. McClellan grabbed him and held him over the hood of the car. Smith's face was bleeding. McClellan said that Smith hit his face against the car door as he exited; Smith made a radio call that he was being beaten up and needed backup.

McClellan was arrested, charged with assaulting an officer, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and a traffic violation for leaving the door of a vehicle parked on the street open. He was jailed for six days and was ultimately found not guilty.

McClellan sued Smith and the city of Rensselaer for false arrest, malicious prosecution, unlawful search and seizure, and unlawful imprisonment. He also claimed to suffer emotional distress. He dropped the suit against the city, and in 2014 the U.S. District Court dismissed his case against Smith. That decision, however, was reversed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in 2006.

The trial lasted four days. The eight-person jury, which deliberated for a day and a half, found that Smith acted improperly, awarding McClellan a total of $170,000 in damages.

See: McClellan v. City of Rensselaer, et al., United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, Case No. 1:02-cv-01141-GLS-DRH (March 26, 2007)

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