A 23-year old retarded man, paralyzed after being shot by a D.C. government security guard five years ago, was awarded $264,000 in damages yesterday by a D.C. Superior Court jury.
John G. Allen, whose legs later were amputated as a result of the injury, told the jury he had gone to the offices of the D.C. Department of Human Resources (DHR) on April 30, 1974, to look for a job. Allen testified that during the interview he fell asleep and was awakened abruptly when a security guard struck him on the shoulder with a night stick.
Allen testified that he struggled with security guards William Roosevelt Jr. and Mack Cantrell and that Cantrell shot Allen in the chest. The bullet zigzagged through his body and severed his spine, paralyzing Allen instantly, the jury was told.
Cantrell said in a deposition taken shortly after the incident that Allen pulled a knife and lunged toward him during the struggle. In self-defense, Cantrell said he pulled his service revolver and fired.
Cantrell died after a heart attack on July 4, 1977, four months after the March 9, 1977 Hanafi takeover of the District Building when he suffered a superficial gunshot wound to the head.
While the jury was out of the courtroom in the Allen trial, Assistant D.C. Corporation Counsel Martin L. Grossman told Judge Fred L. McIntyre that a small quantity of marijuana was found in Allen's pocket after the shooting at 122 C St. NW. Grossman contended that Allen's sleepy condition may have been caused by use of the drug.
During the 2 1/2 days of testimony, government witnesses testified that Allen fell asleep several times while he was being interviewed by job counselor Troy Singletary.
Allen, who is mildly retarded and has a sixth-grade education, told the jury he was sleepy during the interview because he had been searching for work both day and night for several days and was overcome with exhaustion.
At one point, according to testimony, Singletary asked Cantrell and Roosevelt to awaken Allen. Roosevelt testified that he touched Allen lightly on the shoulder to awaken him and Allen jumped from his chair and started swinging his fists.
Roosevelt testified that he used a night stick and Cantrell used a blackjack in an effort to control Allen during the struggle in Singletary's small office.
In his deposition, Cantrell said that Allen pulled a knife during the struggle and backed him into a corner in the office. Cantrell said in the deposition that he fired his weapon as a last resort.
Roosevelt and Singletary, who were standing only a few feet away from Allen when the shooting occurred, said neither saw Allen with a knife at the time of the incident. Other DHR employes who witnessed the shooting also testified that they did not see a knife.
After the shooting, however, a hunting knife that allegedly belonged to Allen was found in Singletary's office, according to testimony. Although Grossman presented a photograph of a knife during the trial, he told the jury that the weapon had been lost.
After deliberating for three days, the jury of four women and two men announced an award to Allen of $264,915 to cover medical expenses and other expenses he had incurred as a result of his injuries.
Allen, who had asked the court for an award of up to $2 million, could not receive compensation for "pain and suffering" under a D.C. law in effect in 1974 that prevented such awards if either the plaintiff or the defendant died before the case came to trial.
In August 1978, the City Council amended the D.C. Code, making "pain and suffering" awards possible in personal injury suits, even if one party of the suit was deceased at the time the case was tried.
Allen's attorney, Patrick J. Christmas, said his client has spent 1,015 days in city hospitals since the shooting. Christmas said Allen's medical expenses amounted to $158,000, of which $130,000 has been paid by the D.C. government.
Payment of the remaining $28,000 is now in dispute. The city has insisted that Allen pay the money. But Christmas said he will ask the court to force the government to pay "since the jury has found the city liable for my client's injuries."
Christmas said he will receive about one-third of Allen's award - or about $86,000 - in attorney's fees. He said Allen will pay another $5,000 in court costs. Allen would be left with $173,000. if he does not have to pay the remaining medical bills.
Grossman, who represented the city in the case against the D.C. government, said the city has not decided what action it will take in response to the jury's verdict. The city could ask the judge to reduce the jury's award or order a new trial in the case.
Before his injury, Allen as a teenager had worked only briefly as a dishwasher and a gas station attendant. After his release from Washington Hospital Center last October, he was given a job at Union Station as an information clerk for handicapped travelers.
After working briefly, Allen had to return to the hospital to have his right leg amputated as a result of extensive bedsores. His left leg had been removed two months earlier.
"I really appreciate the money they gave me," Allen said, following the trial. "I want to buy a house and a car and go to school so I can get some training for a job."