A U.S. District Court jury in Utica on Thursday found Albany Patrolman William Bonnani responsible for $200,000 in punitive damages in a racially charged police brutality case.
The award comes on top of $65,000 in compensatory damages that the same jury assessed last week against Bonnani and the city of Albany.
While the city is theoretically not responsible for the punitive damages, in fact, it is on the hook for the entire punitive and compensatory amounts, since Bonnani is personally indemnified against having to pay for the damages himself by virtue of his union contract.
John Reilly, Albany’s corporation counsel, said that the city does not have any insurance to cover such judgments, so taxpayers would ultimately be liable for the expense if the awards are upheld.
However, John Liguori, the attorney representing the city in the case, and David Brickman, Bonnani’s attorney, both said that they plan to appeal. The lawyers cited past accusations of brutality against Bonnani that they said the judge, David Hurd, improperly allowed into evidence.
Patrick Radel, attorney for plaintiff Phillip Lewis, said, “My client and I are both extremely pleased. … It was a fair trail, and justice was served.” Radel said that he would continue to represent Lewis in the appeal.
Liguori said that the city likely will not have to pay anything until the appeal is decided.
The jury found that race played a factor in Bonnani grinding Lewis’ face into the pavement with his foot, as the black man lay handcuffed on the ground.
“This sort of conduct should not be excused,” Radel said, noting that the denials by Bonnani and the city that it happened “are contrary to the findings of fact” by the jury.
Lewis was imprisoned on a weapons conviction after that 2002 arrest, and has been released.
Bonnani remains on duty in the Albany police force. Brickman said no complaints against him have been upheld, and noted that the city Police Department has supported his position in this case.
Albany Department of Public Safety spokesman Detective James Miller declined to comment, referring questions to Liguori.