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City will appeal Webb ruling

Amanda Hammon

Carson City will appeal a recent $80,000 federal court decision it violated the civil rights of a former resident when he was wrongly jailed for three weeks in 1997.

Attorneys for David Webb are asking the city to pay for $184,000 in legal fees under a federal law which entitles the winning side of a lawsuit to receive the fees.

Without the federal civil rights action law, the city would not be liable for the fees, Deputy District Attorney Mark Forsberg said. He will appeal the case to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Webb’s attorney, Robert Story, said he was not surprised by the city’s planned appeal.

“He’s fought this hard all along,” Story said of Forsberg. “Carson City’s bill will go up another $60,000, maybe $80,000.”

The lawsuit stemmed from a June 1997 incident in which Webb claimed Carson City sheriff’s deputies arrested him, jailed him and refused to release him for three weeks – even after deputies informed the District Attorney’s Office they may have arrested the wrong man.

A U.S. District Court jury on Aug. 24 awarded Webb $80,000 in damages and held the city liable for false imprisonment and malicious prosecution under federal and state law.

Forsberg said the federal ruling says the city has a policy of falsely imprisoning people, an interpretation which he said turns the city’s deputy district attorneys into policy makers. Forsberg said the jury decided there was a city policy of falsely imprisoning people, even though there is no evidence to support the charge.

“The only way they could keep the city connected to the case was if the district attorneys were policy makers,” Forsberg said. “They’re not policy makers, and it makes sense that they’re not. We have six here prosecuting people. Clark County has hundreds, Washoe probably has a hundred. Are all these people making policy every time they make a decision of who to prosecute? That’s wrong.”

Forsberg said the appeal will stall the city paying either the judgment or the attorney fees.

“The attorney fees in this case are higher than they should be,” he said.

Forsberg said if he wins the appeal, the city may still have to pay the $80,000 wrongful imprisonment charge, but would be released from paying the attorney fees. Story said the city could still be liable for the fees.

In June 1997, Carson deputies were searching for a black man who had abandoned a vehicle, leaped a fence and escaped from the deputies. Webb, a black man, said he was merely walking in the area, but was arrested after he ran from deputies and hid under a car.

Webb, who has relocated to New England, was acquitted in October 1997 of charges stemming from the arrest.