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Mon, Feb. 24

Jury finds in favor of PANT officers

PRESCOTT - For the second time, a civil trial jury favored the Prescott Area Narcotics Taskforce and ruled against Robert Howell, who contended the officers acted unreasonably when they executed a search warrant on his home in March 2003.

A panel of five women and three men decided on Monday against Howell on all 10 claims he brought before them hoping to recover damages.

Since Howell's wife was a part of the civil lawsuit, the jury found that

Sgt. Pete Hodap, who was in charge of the task force, was 100 percent responsible for her false arrest. The jury awarded her $10,000 in damages.

"We picked the verdict based on the facts ... and looking at the actions of what happened," the jury forewoman said.

When the officers forced open the door shortly after 6:30 a.m. on March 5, Howell fired a round at them. Howell said that he thought gangsters were at his front door. The officers were looking for his son Brian, whom they believed was dealing drugs from the location.

The police arrested Howell on numerous felony charges including four counts of attempted murder, which a judge later dismissed. Meanwhile, Howell's attorney, Tony Shaw, filed two lawsuits against PANT. A year ago, the Howells lost their case in the United States District Court of Arizona.

The decision pleased Larry Crown, an attorney who represented four PANT officers.

"For the second time, a jury clearly communicating what this case is all about - that police acted appropriately within acceptable policies and procedures," Crown said. "And that this case is about Robert Howell's unjustified use of deadly force.

"The overwhelming nature of the verdict in favor of the police supports that Robert Howell acted in the wrong," Crown added.

The forewoman echoed this opinion during her conversation with the plaintiff and defense attorneys.

Although Howell is a moral man, she said, he doesn't always make wise decisions. She said she faulted him for discharging the weapon at the officers. After he did, the consequences snowballed for him and his family.

"His child was in the line of fire," she said. "To aim and fire the

gun, is this wise, is this smart?"

She said she felt that Hodap did a fine job as the commander of his unit.

"Obviously he was an adequate leader because his officers followed him," she said.

Another juror said that "a participating supervisor is the best kind to have," because he was willing to put his life on the line along with his officers.

Tom Lloyd, a City of Prescott attorney, who represented Hodap, said the verdict was a huge victory for the defendants.

"Out of all counts, only one was returned against my client," Lloyd said. "There are some serious appeal issues on that one."

Lloyd said he will discuss the appeal options with his client before making any additional statements.

He said the message that the jury sent out is that "our police officers are exceptionally well trained."

Shaw, who walked out of the courtroom with the Howells second attorney, Krista Carmen, was visibly disappointed.

"It doesn't look like that juries are going to understand what we are trying to do here," He said. "This was bad treatment that went on by our police department. To me that is outrageous."

Shaw and Carmen agreed that it should be more than obvious to anyone that PANT's execution of the search warrant was unreasonable.

Shaw said the jury completely disregarded that fact and faulted his client for firing the shot.

"They did not rule in his favor because he fired the shot," Shaw said. "It doesn't make any sense."

He also disagreed with the jurors' assessment of Hodap being a fine commander.

"He wasn't fine," Shaw said. "In my opinion that's outrageous."

Contact the reporter at mburic@prescottaz.com

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