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Mother of Dead Informant Awarded $100 Million
By Bill Miller
The verdict, among the largest returned against the D.C. government in recent years, was meant to send a message to police that they must conduct themselves more professionally in dangerous investigations, jurors said.
The two-week trial in U.S. District Court involved the slaying of Eric Butera, 31, an informant who was robbed and then stomped to death while working with police on Dec. 4, 1997, in Southwest Washington. His mother, Terry Butera, filed a lawsuit alleging that police failed to take steps to protect him that night and that those failures contributed to his death.
"This was a young man who put his life on the line," one juror said shortly after the 3:45 p.m. verdict. "He should have been more protected."
Eric Butera, 31, who was trying to overcome a history of drug abuse, had gone to police with information concerning the July 1997 slaying of three people at a Starbucks coffee shop in Northwest Washington. He told police he had overheard people talking about the slayings that summer when he bought drugs in a rowhouse in a crime-ridden block in Southwest Washington.
Soon after he came forward, police gave Butera $80 in marked money and took him to the house in hopes that he could purchase crack cocaine. Had he been able to do so, detectives believed they would have been able to get a warrant to search the rowhouse and possibly turn up leads in the Starbucks case. As it turned out, Butera never got into the house. And as he left it, he was attacked and beaten – and the D.C. police were nowhere in sight.
"They signed Mr. Butera's death warrant when they dropped him off that night," Peter C. Grenier, an attorney for the family, told jurors today.
The jury ruled on Monday that the police department and officers were liable for damages. They deliberated three hours today before returning the decision in Judge June L. Green's courtroom. D.C. officials plan an appeal.
The verdict was returned against the District and the four officers who worked with Butera: Lt. Brian McAllister, Sgt. Nicholas Breul and detectives Anthony Brigidini and Anthony Patterson. McAllister was the top supervisor on the detail and the other three officers carried it out.
Three men have been convicted in Butera's killing.
© 1999 The Washington Post Company