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Sun, Jan. 26

Court overturns $10K judgment for false imprisonment

The City of Prescott won't be handing out $10,000 to Patti Howell any time soon.

A May 12 Arizona Court of Appeals ruling overturned a lower court ruling granting Howell a $10,000 judgment against city police officer Pete Hodap for false imprisonment.

The case arose out of an early morning March 5, 2003, raid by officers with the Prescott Area Narcotics Task Force (PANT) on Howell's home.

Police conducted the raid on the Howell home because they were looking for the Howell's son, whom they believed was dealing drugs from the home.

Robert Howell, Patti's husband, said he thought someone was breaking into the home and fired a warning shot through the front door as officers were breaking it down.

Police charged Robert with attempted murder, aggravated assault and weapons misconduct. Authorities dismissed those charges about two years later.

Police detained Patti Howell in a Prescott Police Department interview room for eight hours, after which they released her. Authorities never charged her with anything.

In December 2003 the Howells filed a complaint in Yavapai County Superior Court against multiple police officers, including Hodap and Randy Johnson.

Prior to the jury trial in that case, the Howells also filed a complaint in federal district court on similar claims, but adding Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk to the complaint.

The federal court eventually ruled in favor of the police and Polk on all the claims.

Johnson and Hodap then filed a motion in the state case asking for a summary judgment in their favor because of the federal court decision.

The state court denied those motions and the case went to trial in June 2007.

That case resulted in the court finding in favor of the police except for Patti Howell's charges of false imprisonment. A jury later awarded her $10,000 in damages on the false arrest claim, finding Hodap as 100 percent at fault.

Hodap and Johnson appealed.

The appeals court's recent ruling states that the lower court erred by failing to bar all of the Howells' claims in the state proceeding.

Chief Assistant City Attorney Thomas Lloyd on Friday characterized the appeals court ruling as a "complete victory" for the city of Prescott's employees.

"The law says you need to make your claims in one case," Lloyd explained. "(The Howells) didn't do that."

The Howells' attorney, Charles Anthony Shaw, did not return a phone call seeking comment and the Daily Courier could not reach the Howells to find out if they intend to appeal the appeals court ruling to the Arizona Supreme Court.

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