A jury found two Madison, WI, police officers used “unreasonable force” when they shot and killed a 26-year-old woman who was pointing a gun at her head during a 2014 incident. The jury also awarded her family $7 million in damages following the Thursday ruling.
The six-woman, two-man jury deliberated for about 3½ hours before ruling in the federal civil lawsuit brought by the family of Ashley DiPiazza against the officers, Justin Bailey and Gary Pihlaja. Bailey is no longer with the department.
After further deliberations, jurors awarded the family $4 million in compensatory and $3 million in punitive damages.
The jury found that a third officer, Carey Leerek, who was a negotiator, bore no responsibility.
Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, called the verdict “outrageous.”
“This sends a disconcerting message to officers because this will lead to second-guessing that puts officers at risk,” Palmer told the State Journal. “That’s very unfortunate.”
Since it was a civil trial, the jury only needed to find that the claims made by the DiPiazza family against the officers were probably true rather than the higher burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal trial.
DiPiazza’s family contended that DiPiazza, a forklift operator at Pitney Bowes in Madison who was described by friends and family as fun-loving and loyal, was shot without making any threats to hurt anybody or pointing the gun toward anybody but herself. The suit claimed DiPiazza’s constitutional rights against unreasonable searches and seizures were violated when Bailey and Pihlaja shot her 11 times inside her apartment. It also alleged Leerek, who was negotiating with DiPiazza, did nothing to stop them.
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