A D.C. Superior Court jury has awarded $245,224 to two Washington men who sued Woodward & Lothrop's department store for false arrest after the men were surrounded at the Tysons Corner store by Fairfax County police officers with shotguns and drawn revolvers.
According to court records, six county police officers confronted the two men as they left the store near closing time on December 3, 1975. The police officers were responding to a call from a store security officer who suspected that the men had stolen items and were armed.
In front of 30 onlookers, the two men, Phillip A. Gibson and Lousi F. Haywood, were arrested, frisked by the police officers and released when the brief investigation showed that the employee's suspicions were wrong, the records said.
The jury of four women and two men deliberated for 3 1/2 hours before delivering its verdict on July 18, according to court records. Francis X. Quinn, an attorney for Woodward and Lothrop, said his client has not decided if it will appeal the verdict.
Last Monday, Judge DeWitt S. Hyde, who presided at the trial, refused to set aside the jury's award or grant a new trial.
Gibson, who lived at 566 48th Place NE at the time of the incident, was awarded $143,312. The jury awarded Haywood $101,912. Haywood lived at 4920 Blaine Street NE, according to court records. Both men are now 25 years old.
According to the records, Gibson and Haywood had gone to the Woodward and Lothrop's store to shop for a raincoat for Haywood. When Haywood could not find a coat that he liked, the two men went to a men's room and then left the store.
Store security employees said in court papers that they became suspicious of the two men because they had illegally parked their car near a store entrance and had come into the store at a late hour when few customers are inside. A security officer also said that one of the men had a bulge in his pocket - which later turned out to be a comb, a source familiar with the case said. An employee called the Fairfax County Police department for assistance.
In court records, a Woodward and Lothrop security agent described herself as "shocked" when she looked outside the store and saw the Fairfax County police officers holding shotguns and revolvers on the two men.
The store contended in court papers that it could not be held responsible for the actions of the county police officers. It said it did not expect the call for assistance to result in such a show of force by the county police.
Gibson worked as a manager at a Washington tire store at the time of the incident and Haywood was employed as a file clerk. Both men said in court records that their performances at work were impaired by the nervousness they experienced as a result of the incident.
"I would say this type of incident is the kind of thing that really can play with your mind," Haywood said in court records.