A jury awarded $180,000 Thursday to two brothers who brought an excessive-force lawsuit against the Atlantic City Police Department — but the municipality intends to fight that decision.
“We’re fully intending to pursue this as far as we have to go,” said Michael Riley, the lawyer representing the city, Police Department and individual officers.
Riley said he will file motions to set aside Thursday’s verdict and for a new trial. If those attempts are unsuccessful, the city will appeal the matter stemming from a brawl outside a casino nightclub more than seven years ago.
Curt Ricciardi, of Atlantic City, and Dominic Ricciardi, of Egg Harbor Township, were seriously hurt during an altercation Jan. 16, 2005, with police, security guards and other guests at the Casbah Nightclub at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, courts documents state.
The pair, their brother Phillip and four friends had been drinking at three bars inside The Quarter at Tropicana Casino and Resort that night before they went to Casbah. The group was thrown out of the club for getting in a fight that broke out when someone they didn’t know punched Phillip Ricciardi, court documents state.
Dominic Ricciardi, now 28, was uncooperative and refused to stop fighting, prompting K-9 Officer Michael Knights to throw Ricciardi against a wall, dislodging one front middle tooth and cracking the other, which later had to be replaced, according to court documents and the Ricciardis’ attorney, Aaron Penrod.
Two young women in the Ricciardis’ entourage also tried to hit and kick female officers Donna Green and Julie Cash, whom one girl accused of making defamatory racial remarks as well, court documents state.
Curt Ricciardi, now 34, suffered neck, back and knee injuries because multiple officers punched him after he tried to intervene when an officer tried to prevent one of his friends from taking a cellphone picture of the arrest of another of their friends, the complaint and other court documents state.
At the time, the Ricciardis and their friends declined medical treatment and to press charges against others involved in the incident, documents show.
On Thursday, an eight-person jury determined force used to subdue and detain Curt and Dominic Ricciardi to be excessive. Jurors awarded Dominic Ricciardi $5,000 in compensatory damages not payable by Knights.
They awarded Curt Ricciardi $175,000 in compensatory damages. Their decision assigns responsibility for payment to Knights for his failure to intervene — even though Ricciardi was unable to identify the officers who hit him. Knights has since retired.
Knights, Cash, Green and Officer Joseph Rodriguez were at Casbah that night because they were working a security detail, court documents show.
It was unclear whether other officers were working because the officers did not file use-of-force or other reports for the incident, Penrod said.
That isn’t unusual because former related department policies resulted in few filings in the past compared to the current volume: In 2005, Atlantic City police filed 32 use-of-force reports; four years later, they filed more than 500, according to documents released to The Press of Atlantic City in response to a previous Open Public Records Act request.
But they and other police officers testified that it would not have been unusual for other officers to be there, too, making it impossible to say for sure that those four were the only police involved, Penrod said.
Because police typically are protected from financial liability for compensatory legal damages stemming from on-duty incidents, the city would pay the $180,000 on Knights’ behalf, Penrod said.
The case initially targeted Trump Taj Mahal and Casbah Nightclub as well, but a bankruptcy judge removed the casino operator from the lawsuit in 2009 during its third such financial reorganization.
Trump representatives declined comment Thursday.
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