May 18--HAMPTON -- A Hampton jury last week found in favor of a former Hampton police officer and a Newport News deputy sheriff in a lawsuit stemming from a 2009 traffic stop that led to a scuffle with the driver.
The nine-member jury deliberated for about 90 minutes before clearing the officers of any wrongdoing in the September 2009 traffic stop on Tupelo Circle near Big Bethel Road.
"It was a complete defense verdict on all three counts," said Stephen Heretick, who represented former Hampton police officer Robert Self. "It was as clear a result as you can get under the law."
"I was just so relieved," said Self, who lost his job over the incident. "It was a sort of vindication. Two and half years of nightmares came to an end."
Heretick contended that during the traffic stop -- which was recorded by a dashboard camera in the police cruiser -- driver Anthony Jackson refused to get off his cell phone and would not obey repeated orders to get out of the car.
After his orders went unheeded, Self opened the car door and attempted to pull Jackson, then 21, out of the car, leading to a scuffle, Heretick said.
Wayne Hill -- a police academy friend of Self's who happened to be on his front lawn nearby -- came over at Self's request and assisted in the arrest. Jackson was handcuffed and placed in Self's cruiser.
Jackson claimed that his wrists and back were sprained during the incident. But Heretick maintained Self acted properly. "It was our defense throughout that Officer Self was doing exactly what he was trained to do," Heretick said.
Heretick said that though there's no case law regarding whether an officer can order someone off his cell phone, local police academies have taught officers that they are within their rights to order people off their phones during stops.
Heretick also said there's clear case law saying that police officers have the right to order people out of their cars if they don't like how they are acting.
"It's very, very clear he has the legal authority to order him out of the car," Heretick said. "He ordered him 11 times, but (Jackson) wasn't cooperating in any way ... He tried to remove him from the car and a scuffle ensued."
Self charged Jackson with failing to wear a seat belt, having an expired inspection sticker, having a defective brake light and resisting arrest. Those charges were later dropped, though it's not clear why.
Jackson, represented by attorney Verbena Askew, filed a lawsuit in Hampton Circuit Court in June 2010 claiming that three law enforcement officers -- Self, Hill and Self's supervisor, now-retired Eric Rusty Jones -- acted improperly.
In the civil suit, which asked for $4.9 million in damages, Jones, Self and Hill were accused of false imprisonment, assault and battery, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress. Jones was accused of negligence, while Self was accused of malicious prosecution.
The case against Jones was tossed out by a judge last year, while the case against Self and Hill proceeded to trial. A judge later dismissed the emotional distress charge.
Askew declined Thursday to comment about the verdict.
Self was put on leave after the incident and terminated two months later. Now a crane operator at the shipyard, Self said the Police Benevolent Association paid for his legal defense after the City of Hampton refused to do so.
The Newport News Sheriff's Office, however, paid for Hill's defense.
Copyright 2012 - Daily Press, Newport News, Va.