A Chicago police officer was awarded $1,000 after suing a man who, he said had falsely accused him of soliciting a bribe to kill a traffic ticket. In Seattle, a policeman won $10,000 damages after suing a man who shot him during a routine vandalism investigation.
And in Tucson, a police officer was awarded a total of $3,100 in two lawsuits - one from a man who stamped on his foot and broke his toe while he was trying to break up a barroom brawl, the other from a woman who later admitted, and wrote a letter of apology as part of the court settlement, that she had falsely accused him of fondling her during a search.
More and more across the country, police are striking back - filing and sometimes winning civil lawsuits against people who attack them physically; insult them to the point of libel or slander, or bring spurious charges against them.
Police unions are pushing this new militancy, termed "Blue Lib;" a quarterly magazine, "The Police Plaintiff," lists cases and provides tips to police on how to file suits, and rank and file officers are embracing it.
"The police are deciding they don't have to be punching bags any more," said Frank G. Carrington, executive director of Americans for Effective Law Enforcement (AELE), a Chicago-based organization that is encouraging the suits.
Carrington, a former federal law enforcement official, sees his 10-year-old organization as a counterweight to the American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed suits against police officers on behalf of citizens who felt they were wronged.
"What we are trying to do is make people understand they can't go along killing and maiming police and get away with it," said George J. Franscell, attorney for the Los Angeles Police Protective League.
He filed about 30 cases on behalf of policemen last year, he said, compared to 20 in 1976. Although the number of civil suits filed by police is still small, a spot check of lawyers and police officials across the country showed that it is growing.
Each major city has at least two or three suits filed by police officers each year, said Glen R. Murphy, director of government affairs and legal counsel for the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
"It's not a large number," he said, "but there's no question it's increasing.
"For a number of years police have felt they didn't have the right to file a suit against people who injured them. It was considered bad form within the department, and in some cases, an officer had to get special permission."
Now, said Robert Gordon, executive director of the International Conference of Police Associations representing 235,000 rank-and-file officers in 500 local associations, "We are urging our people to do it.
"It used to be if a police officer was brought up on false charges (departmental or criminal), he would let it go if he was cleared. Now we tell them, go after those people (the accusers) in civil suits."
Gordon said it has only been in the past three years that courts have been awarding damages to police officers in cases where they have been physically or verbally assaulted. Now, as word of court victories spreads, more and more officers are filling suits, he said.
Arlington Police Sgt. Robert Dreischer, who was shot in the head by one of three men he caught in a roberry attempt, was one of the first to win a court suit. He was awarded $150,000 damages in 1976 when he sued James Turner, who is currently serving, a 40-year sentence after pleading guilty in criminal court to armed robbery and malicious wounding charges.
As in many of these cases, Dreischer has not collected any money from Turner. But the biggest benefit to Dreischer, said his attorney, William E. Artz, came when he realized "juries do indeed treat officers as human beings. He thought he was going to lose because he was a police officer."
Moreover, said Artz, there is a possibility Turner may inherit some money during the 20-year life of the judgment. When Turner was caught he was driving a Lincoln Continental belonging to his father, Artz said.
Artz said he has refused to take other cases where police officers have been injured because "I felt unless there is the slightest hint of assets it really becomes an academic exercise.
"Lawyers tend to shy away from these kind of cases," he continued, "because you are not going to pay your bills with them."
Joel Kinkelstein, attorney for the U.S. Park Police union, said he does not like police plaintiff cases for just that reason.
"How's a lawyer going to be paid?" he said. "What good does it do to get a $150,000 verdict from a man who can't pay? An awful lot of judges' time, court time and legal time goes down the drain running after a pot at the end of a rainbow. I don't think it's worth it."
Franscell, the Los Angeles police attorney, thinks differently. While acknowledging that officers' suits often don't get a large amount of money, he said the suits are important to show that people can't get away with abusing police officers.
As an example of the kind of cases Los Angeles police officers are bringing. "The Police Plaintiff" reported three cases settled for a total of $11,650. The largest settlement was $10,000 from a doctor who, as two officers walked up to his green Mercedes, sprayed a Mace-like chemical into their eyes.
"The Police Plaintiff" is filled with examples of cases won and lost - and the pitfalls of bringing civil cases.
It is, the journal pointed out in an issue last year, near impossible for police officers to win defamation suits.
"Law enforcement officers are defamed with a certain regularity as a result of the peculiar nature of their jobs," a feature article said. "Frivolous accusations of police brutality, citizens' baseless complaint of 'you're a disgrace to your uniform,' and cleverly worded newspaper articles loaded with innuendo would all appear to be wrongs without legal remedies."