After less than an hour of deliberation Thursday, seven jury members in the Juana Villegas trial awarded the woman $200,000 in compensation — $1 million short of what she sought.
A federal judge ruled in April that Villegas' rights were violated when Davidson County Sheriff’s deputies shackled her before and after childbirth.
Following the jury's decision, Sheriff Daron Hall said the amount awarded, “whether it was a dollar or a million dollars” mattered little because his office and Metro had already decided to appeal an April judgment by U.S. District Judge William J. Haynes Jr. that led to Thursday’s outcome.
“When the summary judgment came down, we were going to appeal it anyway, and you can’t appeal until this process is over,” Hall said.
“We’re anxious to get our case heard in the court in Cincinnati,” he added, referring to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
After the trial, Villegas declined to comment. Phillip Cramer, who represented Villegas along with William Harbison and John Farringer IV, called his client a "great and courageous person.”
“The effects of the courts decision from the verdict today will improve communities throughout the country,” Cramer said outside of the courtroom.
Earlier Thursday, Cramer had asked the jury to consider damages of more than $1.2 million — a figure culled from what he said was a mid-range estimated cost of future treatment ($308,000) and compensation ($924,000) for her physical, psychological and emotional distress.
Cramer said Villegas would be able to receive some of the treatment she needs with the $200,000 awarded, and “her family can get back the mother and wife they knew.”
During Thursday morning’s closing arguments, Metro attorney Allison Bussell said the sheriff’s office was not responsible for what was actually causing Villegas’ ongoing pain and suffering. Instead, Bussell argued, the pain — which a psychiatrist has diagnosed as a stressor leading to post-traumatic stress disorder and depression — resulted from Villegas’ stress about her arrest and subsequent fear of being separated from her family.
Bussell argued that Villegas’ emotional distress came in the hour following her arrest when she began to worry about being separated from her family.
On Wednesday, emotions drew Villegas to tears at times on the witness stand, as she recalled being restrained during labor and immediately after giving birth to her son, Gael, three years ago.
The testimony came during questioning on the second day of a trial in U.S. District Court to determine how much money, if any, in damages the jury of four women and three men might award her.
This week’s trial follows Haynes’ previous ruling in April, in which he found that Davidson County Sheriff’s Office deputies violated Villegas’ civil rights by keeping her shackled for much of the time leading up to, and then after, her childbirth, and also for refusing to allow her the use of a breast pump upon her release from the hospital.
On July 3, 2008, a Berry Hill police officer arrested Villegas, then an undocumented Mexican immigrant who was nine months pregnant at the time, after she failed to produce a driver’s license during a traffic stop. She was later held in jail over the July 4 weekend on a 287(g) immigration hold, only to go into labor late in the evening on July 5.
After Haynes excused the jury Thursday, he felt it necessary to address what he said were statements by the Metro attorneys regarding possible impartiality on his part by excluding certain testimony regarding illegal immigration and Villegas’ possible deportation during this week’s damages trial, for which liability had already been determined.
Haynes cited other cases in which courts acted in a similar fashion, stating that his actions “fall in line” with such cases.
“I am at a loss to understand some of these criticisms,” Haynes said. The day before, he told Metro attorneys, Bussell along with Kevin Klein, that their “conduct in this case has just mystified the court,” referring to their questions and arguments regarding Villegas’ fear of being separated from her family.
Haynes ruled the issue of Villegas’ immigration status wasn’t to be discussed and felt the defense attorneys came too close to crossing that line several times.
Hall defended the approach, saying, “I’ve been around this 20-something years. I couldn’t be more proud of the attorneys that represented us in this case.”
Bussell declined to comment.