An eight-member jury ruled in U.S. District Court last week that an officer with the Oregon State Police violated a motorcyclist’s civil rights in an Aug. 3, 2012 incident that left him with a broken clavicle, a fractured rib, and other injuries.
Justin Wilkens was driving his motorcycle aggressively, speeding, weaving in and out of traffic, and passing motorists despite double yellow lines on Crow Road west of Eugene. One of the cars he passed was an unmarked Chevrolet Camaro driven by State Police Lt. Rob Edwards.
In footage captured by an in-car video system in Edwards’ police vehicle he was unaware of, the officer is seen pursuing Wilkens until he reaches the intersection of Highway 126.
The video shows the motorcyclist coming to a stop before the cop rear-ends him while traveling at low speed, sending him flying to the ground. Edwards is then seen exiting his vehicle with his gun drawn and pointing it at the Wilkens.
After Wilkens shakes himself off and makes his way to his feet, the footage shows Edwards deliver a front kick to his upper chest. The motorcyclist is then seen slowly complying with commands to get on the ground at gun point and is handcuffed.
Wilkens claimed that he did not know that the unmarked car was a police vehicle or that it was pursuing him. He said his tight-fitting motorcycle helmet impeded his ability to hear at the time, and that he did not see the officer’s flashing lights – which were embedded in the Camaro’s grille – through his small rear-view mirror.
Watch the raw footage:
The video was played multiple times for the jury during the three-day trial, who determined that Edwards acted with negligence when his police car rear-ended Wilkens’ motorcycle, and that the kick constituted excessive force.
Wilkens was awarded more than $180,000 in total damages: $31,000 in economic damages for medical expenses and motorcycle repair bills; $100,000 in noneconomic damages for his injuries and pain and suffering; and $50,000 in punitive damages.
In response to the verdict, the Oregon State Police said in a statement that they are “disappointed with the outcome and feel the actions of [the trooper] clearly did not violate established procedures or tactics.” In addition, they asserted that Edwards “should be shielded from the liability of civil damages.”
Edwards conceded in court that Wilkens had begun to comply with his commands before he kicked him, but maintained that he was unable to stop because he “already had the muscles fired” in his leg.
The Lt. also claimed that crashing into the motorcycle was an accident that possibly resulted from loss of braking power in his car. A brake expert testified however, that “brake fades” are rare in vehicles equipped with modern break systems like Edwards’ Camaro.
In the wake of the incident, Edwards received nothing more than a written reprimand for neglecting to report his use of force to supervisors and would latter be granted a promotion to Captain.