03/20/2001

Suspect's family sues acquitted city officer
[St. Louis, MO]

Tim Bryant; if the Post-Dispatch; Brandy Warren of the Post-Dispatch contributed information for this; story March 17, 2001, Saturday, Five Star Lift Edition
Copyright 2001 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
March 17, 2001, Saturday, Five Star Lift Edition

(ST LOUIS) -- One day after police Officer Robert Dodson was acquitted of murdering burglary suspect Julius Thurman, he was named in a $ 63 million civil suit claiming wrongful death and a delay in summoning medical aid.

Thurman's family filed the action Friday in St. Louis Circuit Court.

His mother, Virginia Thurman, told reporters she hopes the Police Department "does not allow Dodson to patrol the streets of St. Louis again."

She also said her "family was extremely disappointed when we heard the verdict" that found Dodson not guilty of second-degree murder.

Police officials did not return calls for comment on the suit and on whether they will reinstate Dodson, a 19-year veteran officer suspended without pay since the incident.

At a news conference, Thurman family lawyer Devereaux Cannick of New York City said the family wants Dodson investigated for possible federal violations.

Dodson's lawyer, C. John Pleban, who was critical Thursday night of prosecutors for charging the officer with murder in 1999, predicted Friday that Dodson's job is gone.

"I guarantee you they will not take him back," Pleban said. "They don't have the intestinal fortitude at the Police Department to do the right thing.

"So now Bob Dodson goes from being the political whipping boy of the circuit attorney's office to the political whipping boy of the Police Department. We will have another three-ring circus, just like with Moran."

Pleban was referring to another client, police Sgt. Thomas Moran, who was accused of assaulting a mentally retarded man who police mistook as a burglar. Moran was acquitted in 1998 but is still battling the Police Board over his job and pension.

About 40 people, black and white, gathered Friday afternoon at Poelker Park across Tucker Boulevard from the Municipal Courts Building downtown to protest the Dodson verdict. Some carried signs with slogans such as "End Racial Profiling" or white crosses bearing names of people they said died at the hands of police.

They also burned a cardboard stand-up of a police officer.

The protest leaders were the co-chairmen of the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression, Jamala Rogers and Zaki Baruti. In a speech, Baruti said, "The community has to get involved and assume responsibility."

Kalimu Endesha, a rally participant, said, "It's about time they stopped executing black folks, especially young black men, at their own discretion."

The Thurman civil suit seeks the $ 63 million in actual and punitive damages from Dodson, Officer Stephen Capkovic, a police sergeant, other police officials and the Police Board.

In addition to Virginia Thurman, the plaintiffs are the dead man's father, Tommie Thompson, and Julius Thurman's estate.

Thurman, 19, died April 26, 1997, two days after he and another man were confronted by Dodson and Capkovic on the roof of AC Pawn Shop, 2850 Chippewa Street. Burglar alarms summoned the officers, who found that the men had been in the store.

Authorities alleged that Dodson beat Thurman in a struggle. An autopsy showed Thurman died of a fractured skull, probably from a blow to the back of his head. Defense lawyers at Dodson's trial presented medical evidence suggesting the injury happened in a fall.

After hearing six days of testimony, jurors deliberated six hours on Thursday and acquitted Dodson of second-degree murder. They also rejected an alternative charge of involuntary manslaughter.

As part of a police conspiracy, the civil suit alleges, Capkovic "laughed and watched" as Dodson beat Thurman. Capkovic testified at the trial that he never saw a beating.

The suit claims that the officers acted with "racial animus" because Thurman was black. Dodson and Capkovic are white. A second-degree murder charge initially filed against Capkovic was dropped.

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