SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — A Springdale man said police used excessive force when he was arrested in 2016, and a federal jury ruled against the officer in question this week.
Johnnie Rochell filed a civil suit based on his arrest five years ago. Rochell claimed a plain-clothed officer in an unmarked car parked in front of his home in 2016, staking out another house. Rochell said he tried to talk to the officer, then-Detective Cody Ross, but got no response. He walked into his house and returned with a rifle slung around his back.
Court documents said Rochell dropped the gun and stepped away from it before Ross tackled him and aimed a gun at his head. According to documents, police then misidentified Rochell as someone with a criminal past and arrested him.
A federal jury ruled Wednesday that Ross did use excessive force.
“John Rochell was very happy with the outcome,” said Matt Bender, one of several attorneys including Alicia Canfield and Tiffany Murphy, who represented Rochell. “He’d waited five years.”
Rochell initially sued for $200 million in damages. The jury ordered Ross to pay $7,000 in punitive damages and $1 in actual damages, and insurance will likely cover the former.
“The actual damages, I think the jury was saying there was no actual physical injury or medical bills or things like that,” said attorney Aaron Cash, who kept up with the case but didn’t work on it himself. “For the punitive damages, what the jury was saying is they found the officer’s conduct involved recklessness or indifference to the plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights.”
An unreasonable seizure fell into this category, Cash said.
Bender said things could’ve gone much differently, so he’s relieved at the ultimate outcome.
“I am happy, but also I can imagine how easy it would’ve been for [Rochell] to have been killed during this incident,” Bender said.
The Springdale Police Dept. declined an interview request Thursday, but a statement released Wednesday indicated support for Ross, who is now a school resource officer for Springdale.
On September 22, 2021 a jury found against Officer Cody Ross in a use of force case. While we respect the jury’s findings we support Officer Ross as he evaluates his options.Lt. Jeff Taylor, Springdale Police Dept.
Rochell declined to an interview request through his lawyer.