One thing became clear immediately: Franklin, then an 18-year-old high school senior, had done nothing wrong. But he did fit the description of a suspect being sought by officers: a slender, African American man with dreads.
The incident, which occurred in the summer of 2012 in a northern Indiana city, prompted a civil rights lawsuit against the police officers and city officials. Earlier this month, a jury found that the officers violated Franklin’s constitutional rights by arresting him and entering his family’s home without a warrant.
Still, Franklin and his family feel that justice has been denied.
The jury ordered each of the defendants to pay Franklin and his parents $1 for the violations of their rights. The total award was $18 in damages.
The Rev. Mario Sims, a senior pastor in South Bend, Ind., where Franklin lives, said the small award sends a strong message to Franklin and his family: “Your rights are worth a dollar.”
Russell Thomas Jr., Franklin’s nephew, said the whole experience was a “slap in the face.”
“To me, it’s just solidifying that blacks in America, we have no rights,” he said. “How can we fight for something when the system was not made for us in the first place?”
Franklin isn’t a thug, Sims said, and he lacks a criminal history. Still the incident four years ago left the now-22-year-old distrustful of law enforcement and in fear that something similar will happen again. He does not want to be recognized, so he has declined requests from local media for a picture of his face.
“It’s traumatizing,” Franklin said. “It’s somewhat of a burden that you have to carry every day.”
The incident happened about 2:30 a.m. on July 7, 2012, when Franklin and his parents were sleeping. Officers Eric Mentz, Aaron Knepper and Michael Stuk, of the South Bend Police Department, were looking for Dan Jones, Franklin’s older brother, after receiving a domestic violence call. The officers received information that Jones may have gone to his parents’ house, according to an internal affairs investigation report by the police department.
Franklin’s mother, Vivian Franklin, answered the door after hearing loud knocks. The officers went inside without a warrant and without asking for permission to go in, according to the report. The officers told her to stay outside on the front porch.
Accounts of how the officers arrived vary. The complaint the family filed in 2013 against the officers alleged that they came to the home with their weapons drawn. City officials, however, say their weapons were not drawn.
When they got to DeShawn Franklin’s bedroom, they saw him lying on his stomach and woke him up. Startled and afraid, he resisted, so the police officers punched and used a stun gun on him.
His father, Dan Franklin, who is disabled, told the internal affairs investigator that he heard a “pop” and thought the officers had shot his son as he screamed for his mother.
The officers soon realized that they got the wrong person. Still, DeShawn Franklin was handcuffed and placed in a squad car for resisting. He was released shortly after, according to the report, and the officers apologized to the family.
The following year, DeShawn Franklin and his parents filed a civil rights lawsuit alleging excessive use of force, unlawful law enforcement entry, false arrest, infliction of emotional distress and other violations.
The internal affairs investigation found that the officers used excessive force and unlawfully entered the Franklins’ home. They were disciplined for their actions, including written reprimands, Kevin Lawler, spokesman for the city, told the Indianapolis Star. The police department also trained the officers on Fourth Amendment rights and developed new classes on ethics and diversity, the Star reported.
The same three officers involved in the Franklin lawsuit were named in a 2013 case filed by Jonathan Ferguson, a 7-Eleven store clerk with a learning disability. According to a federal complaint, the officers slashed Ferguson’s tire, and two of them challenged him to eat a teaspoon of cinnamon in exchange for $30 and a dinner coupon at a local Applebee’s. Ferguson did, and he vomited for several hours.
The officers took a video of the “cinnamon challenge,” as it had become locally known, and posted it on YouTube, according to the complaint. The parties have reached a settlement in that lawsuit.
In a city where more than a quarter of the population is African American, some cite the lack of diversity in South Bend’s police force as a source of tension. Of the 250 officers in 2014, only 25 were black, fewer than 10 were Hispanic and 20 were female, according to a local Fox affiliate. The city also faces several sex and race discrimination lawsuits filed by current police officers, and have settled three lawsuits involving allegations of racially motivated hate speech by police officers, according to the South Bend Tribune.
This year, however, officials implemented a plan to hire more minorities on the police force. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) said there will be “no quick fixes, no silver bullets,” but he promised a “sustainable change,” the Tribune reported.
Peter Agostino, the attorney for the police officers and the city in the lawsuit filed by the Franklins, told The Post that the case isn’t about racial injustice, but about a lack of evidence.
Although the jury found constitutional violations, there was no evidence presented in court that supported the amount of damages that the Franklins were seeking. He said the Franklins asked for more than $1 million in damages.
In civil rights lawsuits, damages are usually measured by medical bills, lost wages, property damage, post-traumatic stress, psychological treatment, impairment and others, Agostino said. But in this case, no such evidence was presented, so the jury awarded the plaintiffs the default amount of $1 for unlawful entry and $1 for unlawful seizure.
“You can say that they experienced a deprivation of their constitutional rights,” Agostino said.
“But other than the deprivation of constitutional rights, the jury did not find other damages that go along with that,” he said. “They did exactly what they were instructed to do. They applied the law and determined the facts.”
According to Agostino, the city did offer $15,000 to settle the case.
Johnny Ulmer, the Franklins’ attorney, was not available for comment on Monday. But he told the Star that damages for other similar cases are between $100,000 and $300,000.
“If they would have put an amount on the table that I felt was appropriate, we would have settled,” Ulmer told the Star. “What happened that night, the physical abuse that DeShawn suffered — they were slapping my clients in the face with the offer they put out there.”
Stephen Saltzburg, a George Washington University law professor who has dealt with cases on excessive use of force, said lawsuits that usually garner big damages involve excessive force that are “so out of proportion that the jury was just shocked.”
Still, Saltzburg said the amount that the Franklins received doesn’t send much of a message to law enforcement about using excessive force.
“I would’ve expected most juries to have awarded several thousand dollars,” Saltzburg said. “It doesn’t seem adequate for an illegal entry into a home and for excessive force. It’s so low. You can’t go any lower. $18 says, ‘We don’t really think much of these rights that were violated.’ It’s an unusually low figure.”
Nationwide, the 10 largest police departments have paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in cases involving police misconduct from 2010 to 2014.
New York City, which tops the list, paid $601.3 million in misconduct cases, according to the Wall Street Journal. Chicago was a distant second, paying $249.7 million. Washington at No. 6, paid $30.5 million.
Buttigieg, the city’s mayor, said the $15,000 that was offered would have been an appropriate settlement, adding that the officers did acknowledge they made a mistake.
“One thing that’s really important is that people don’t get the impression that civil rights are not taken seriously and that constitutional rights are not valued,” Buttigieg told The Post.
He added that, after the incident, police officers went through training on fair and impartial policing. He also called DeShawn Franklin an “outstanding young man.”
“I really want him to feel that he has a place here in South Bend, and that the city cares about him,” Buttigieg said. “Anything that takes away from that is an example of what we’ve got to deal with. So long as there is any sense among any part of our community that they don’t feel equal, we’ve got work to do.”
DeShawn Franklin now works at the University of Notre Dame, where he sets up equipment and moves furniture. He plans to attend a community college to pursue a general studies degree or possibly study business.
He said the meager settlement he and his family received is hard for him to accept, but it is also out of his control.
“No one would feel it’s appropriate for your constitutional rights to be valued at a dollar,” he said. “I can’t really say how much it would be worth, but no one’s life is really worth that amount of money, you know.”
All he can do now, he said, is move on.
“You got to still get up and try to make the best of every situation you have,” he said.
This post has been updated.