Suit against UT police unresolved
Published: Fri Sep 23, 1994 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 12:45 p.m.
Following the successful suit filed by a former student against a UT
Police officer, the issue is still not resolved.
Bob Davis was awarded $250 from UT Police officer Anthony Bowman in
federal court Friday. The jury found that UT Police Chief Ed Yovella,
Chancellor William T. Snyder and Bowman were guilty of violating Davis's
First Amendment rights on Sept. 13, 1991.
Davis was hanging a sign on the pedestrian bridge over Cumberland
Avenue. UT Police officers, enforcing an unwritten policy for which Yovella
and Snyder were responsible, told Davis to remove the signs, Davis
The policy was that signs could not be hung from the bridge because of
traffic safety. The jury found that the policy, or its enforcement,
violated Davis's constitutional freedom of speech.
Davis said he will file a motion Monday asking for a court injunction to
prevent future enforcement of the policy. Ron Leadbetter, associate general
counsel for UT, who represented the officers in the lawsuit, is filing a
motion, probably this week, asking the judge to set aside the $250
judgment against Bowman.
Snyder, Yovella and UT could not be sued for a civil rights violation in
federal court because of the 11th Amendment to the Constitution, Leadbetter
said. The Constitution gives states sovereignty that does not allow them to
be sued in federal court in all cases. Likewise, officials carrying out
the policies of the state cannot be sued. The police officers, however, can
be sued as individuals, Leadbetter said.
Davis, a junior in political science at the time, asked for $500,000 in
the suit, including more than $12,000 dollars for medical expenses he said
he incurred from being roughly arrested by UT Police officers Bowman, Burl
Harris and Lt. Robert Wyrick. Harris and Wyrick were not found guilty of
violating Davis's rights.
UT was named in the original suit, but was dismissed because of 11th
Davis was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting
arrest the night he hung signs that said "Real Lady Killers: UTPD and KPD,"
"Pedigo is a pig," "Let's throw Victor and his momma off the train,
accidentally of course" and "KPD Killers."
Randall Pedigo was the medical examiner in the Cheryl Darlene (Shofner)
Grant case. Victor Ashe is the mayor of Knoxville.
Davis is part of a group called the Beck-Shofner People's voice
association. The group formed when the sister of Davis's friend, Grant, was
killed by a Knoxville Police officer. A UT Police officer, who never
un-holstered his gun, was on the scene when Grant was shot in the head.
The police department found the July 9, 1991 shooting to be accidental.
The Knoxville Police were successfully sued for the shooting. The
manufacturer of the gun the officer was using, Glock Ges. M.B.H, was sued
by Grant's family in June. The claim that the gun was defective because
of a light trigger pull was not accepted by the jury. The defense
maintained that the officer disobeyed Knoxville Police rules against
running with a gun and having his finger on the trigger of his gun.
Davis said Ethel Beck, 78 at the time, died after being released from
jail following a traffic accident in 1970. She was arrested for driving
under the influence when she had a stroke and rear-ended another vehicle,
Davis received far less than he asked for in the case.
"(The $250 verdict) probably falls in the category of nominal damages.
What it generally means is that the jury did not find any actual damages
even though they (constitutional rights) are violated," Leadbetter
"I think it's a moral thing, not a financial thing," Davis said.
"That bridge has been used to hang signs for years," Davis said. "They
supposedly have a policy that no one can hang signs from the bridge, but
it's an unwritten policy. They can exclude any groups they want to."
Davis sued the UT Police officers for violating his First, Fourth and
14th Amendment rights. The banners were confiscated and provoked the Fourth
Amendment, barring unreasonable search and seizure, violation claim of the
suit. The 14th Amendment gives federal courts jurisdiction over state
and local laws. The jury only found one officer guilty and only of
violating his First Amendment rights.
Davis was 42 years old when the incident occurred. He left UT the
semester after the accident and works at his own private investigations
firm now, he said.