Two Madison police officers who shot and killed a 26-year-old woman in 2014 used “unreasonable force,” according to a federal jury.
The jury issued the ruling at a civil trial on Thursday, stemming from a lawsuit filed by the family of Ashley DiPiazza against the officers who shot her. Those officers, Gary Pihlaja and Justin Bailey, were cleared of any criminal charges in 2014. Bailey left the Madison Police Department shortly after the incident.
Officers responded to an apartment at 1121 MacArthur Road around 1:20 a.m. on May 18, 2014, on reports of a domestic disturbance. A man told a 911 dispatcher that he left the apartment after DiPiazza armed herself with a handgun. DiPiazza died from gun-related injuries.
The lawsuit alleged that when Bailey and Pihlaja shot DiPiazza, they violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on excessive force. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for DiPiazza’s estate.
An internal review by Madison police in June 2014 determined the officers did not violate departmental policy. Following an investigation by the state Department of Justice, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne cleared the officers of any criminal liability.
The jury awarded Dipiazza’s family $7 million in damages; $4 million in compensatory damages and $1.5 million in punitive damages against each officer, said Jeff Scott Olson, the family’s attorney.
Madison City Attorney Michael May said in a written statement Friday morning that he is “extremely disappointed” in the verdict and damages awarded.
May said the damages are covered under the city’s insurance policy. He said the city will meet with legal council and its insurance carrier to decide if they’ll make an appeal.
Olson said they originally asked for $20 million in compensatory damages and seven figures in punitive damages.
“We think a punitive damages award that gets in the news would deter other officers from similar violations in the future and maybe save some lives,” said Jeff Scott Olson, the DiPiazza family’s attorney.
Olson said jury deliberations on the monetary award will likely go into the night and possibly even into Friday.
Madison police Chief Mike Koval released a statement on the case Thursday.
“One of MPD’s core values is ‘human dignity,’ wherein we recognize and respect the value of all human life. Overwhelmingly, our officers succeed in going to extraordinary lengths against incredible odds in reaching outcomes where the individuals we encounter can be provided yet another opportunity to live out their lives through intervention and assistance. Tragically, such was not the case in the incident involving Ashley DiPiazza. We expressed then, and now, our deepest sympathies to Ms. DiPiazza’s family and friends,” Koval said in the statement.
“When officers take an oath to “protect and serve,” as well as to uphold constitutional rights, it is understood that lawsuits are a part of a process people can use to bring grievances against the police. As officers of the court, we understand this and accept jury verdicts as a necessary part of respecting the process that is critically important to our criminal justice system. That said, the dynamics of rapidly evolving, highly stressful incidents involving guns is never easy and our officers are well-trained and versed in trying to resolve these sort of calls doing the best they can under the totality of the circumstances. I support our officers in this case and note that the Wisconsin’s Department of Criminal Investigation fully investigated this matter and the Dane County District Attorney previously cleared them of any criminal wrong doing. A subsequent internal review by the Professional Standards Unit of MPD also found no violations of policies or procedures,” Koval said.