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$2 million award in cop beating case

By Matt O'Connor

A federal jury on Friday awarded more than $2 million in damages to a North Side man who says he was beaten by Chicago police a day after he squirted a traffic officer with water.

After two days of deliberations, the jury found Belmont District Officer Daniel Durst had used excessive force against Kentin Waits and that Sgt. Michael Prusank failed to stop the beating.

Waits, who is homosexual, had alleged the officers also subjected him to anti-gay epithets, but jurors rejected his claim under the Illinois Hate Crimes Act for additional damages.

Jurors awarded punitive damages of $1.5 million against Prusank and $500,000 against Durst--amounts the city is barred from paying on the officers' behalf, said Jon Loevy, Waits' lawyer.

In addition, the city was ordered to pay $15,000 in compensatory damages.

The officers flatly denied any beating took place.

Though jurors declined to be interviewed following the verdict, Loevy said he found it particularly interesting that the heavier punitive damages had been assessed against the higher-ranking officer who stood by and let the beating go on.

"If the Police Department won't clean itself up, maybe the jury system will," Loevy said.

Waits only filed the lawsuit last year after the department's Office of Professional Standards didn't substantiate Waits' complaint of brutality, Loevy said.

Jennifer Hoyle, a spokesman for the city's Law Department, said the city would ask U.S. District Judge William Hibbler to set aside the verdict.

"The jury rejected his allegation that this was a hate crime, so we think that is inconsistent with the verdict they reached," Hoyle said.

Waits, 32, said Friday he felt victimized twice--first in the beating and then before trial when city lawyers subpoenaed his therapy, work and phone records.

"They tried to put Kentin on trial," said Loevy, who was highly critical of the subpoenas in his closing arguments.

Waits said his employer hadn't known he was gay, but the subpoenas seeking work records revealed his lawsuit alleged he was a victim of a hate crime.

He was laid off from work last May, he said.

A day after squirting a traffic officer with water in frustration, Waits said Durst repeatedly slapped him with his open hand and kneed him in the groin once as Prusank looked on.

Copyright 2002 Chicago Tribune


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