Barbara Boyer, Philadelphia Inquirer, August 8, 2009
A Bucks County woman who had been robbed and left bleeding outside the Tweeter Center in Camden just didn’t behave well as a crime victim, or so police thought.
Camden Detective Maurice Gibson, who alleges that Kimberly Halpin made racial slurs in describing her assailants, decided that she should be handcuffed, arrested, and jailed.
Their he-said, she-said trial landed before U.S. District Judge Renee Bumb this week. And a jury of five women and three men unanimously decided yesterday that the detective fabricated information to justify the June 19, 2004, arrest.
Halpin, 29, who is white and now works as a substance and alcohol abuse counselor, sued Camden police for false arrest after she was charged with disorderly conduct while trying to report that she had been mugged as she left an all-day music festival at the Tweeter Center.
Gibson, who is African American and has been a police officer for 16 years, said he tried to take Halpin’s report, but she cried too much, was irate, cursed, and then twice used the “N-word” in describing the two assailants who took her backpack, purse, car keys, money, and cell phone.
The slur, which Halpin insists she never said, is why Halpin was locked up, Gibson testified.
Gibson, frustrated with Halpin, said she couldn’t articulate what happened and twice said she was knocked down by two people, using a racial slur to describe them.
Gibson said he then locked her up, fearing her words might incite others who had come to the station. Halpin, who was then a criminal justice major, said the detective locked her up because she was emotional, and accused her of making racial slurs only after she threatened to sue. At one point, she passed out in the cell, overwhelmed with emotion, she testified.
In instructing the jury before deliberation, Bumb told it that under the law, cursing or uttering racial slurs alone is not justification for a disorderly-conduct arrest. The officer had to believe that the words could lead to a disturbance to justify the arrest, the judge said.
In a questionnaire, the jury members said they believed Halpin used foul language and yelled during her interaction with Gibson, but they did not believe she made racial remarks or had been flailing her arms, as Gibson testified.
The jury decided that there was no basis for arrest and that Gibson acted maliciously. In awarding damages, however, the jury gave only $1 in compensation and $100 in punitive damages. Her attorney told the jury that Halpin was not seeking compensation. More important to her was to recognize that she was falsely arrested.