An attorney for former Black Panther Party leader Elaine Brown asked a jury today to order Oakland City Councilwoman Desley Brooks to pay Brown between $1 million and $3 million in punitive damages for an incident in October 2015 in which Brooks pushed Brown down. Attorney Charles Bonner said the jury should order Brooks to pay punitive damages “to make sure she doesn’t do this again.”
Bonner alleged that Brooks, 56, who was first elected to the City Council in 2002 and represents District 6 in East Oakland, has a history of assaulting people she disagrees with, citing two incidents at Oakland City Hall in which he said she pushed people. “There’s a pattern and practice in which she gets mad and out of control and resorts to violence,” Bonner said.
On Dec. 21, the same jury awarded the 73-year-old Brown $3.75 million in compensatory damages for an incident at the Everett & Jones BBQ restaurant near Jack London Square at about 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 30, 2015, when Brown alleges that Brooks punched her in the chest with two fists and sent her crashing backwards head over heels over a stack of folding chairs. Bonner said Brown landed hard, hitting the back of her head on a chair, and suffered a rotator cuff injury that required surgery and will affect her for the rest of her life.
The incident occurred after Brown and Brooks got into an argument about a public housing project in West Oakland. In its verdict, the jury found that Brooks attacked Brown without justification, that Brown had never threatened her, that Brooks was acting within the scope of her employment with the city, and that her assault on Brown was an act of elder abuse. Bonner told the jury that it should also award Brown punitive damages to “make an example” out of Brooks.
“Your verdict needs to be breaking news and be on CNN,” he said. But Brooks’ attorney Warren Metlitzky said the previous verdict has already been picked up by the national news media and “people have already heard about it.” Metlitzky said, “She will live with your verdict for the rest of her life and it will show up in every Google search of her name.” He said jurors should be “fair rather than vengeful” and shouldn’t award Brown any punitive damages.
The city of Oakland’s liability insurance likely will pay the $3.75 million in compensatory damages but Metlitzky said Brooks would personally have to pay any punitive damages that are awarded. But he said Brooks doesn’t have much money because she has less than $5,000 in her bank account and only has enough money in her retirement account to pay her about $1,000 a month when she retires.
“You can’t bankrupt her and you can’t put her on the street and take her house,” Metlitzky said. He said the incident was “a dispute between two strong and opinionated women” and said Brooks acted in “the heat of the moment.” Brown headed the Black Panther Party from 1974 to 1977 and served as an aide to Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson at the time of the incident in 2015.
Brooks also served as an aide to Carson before she was elected to the City Council. Brown filed a report about the incident with the Oakland Police Department but the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office decided in May 2016 not to file any criminal charges against Brooks. District Attorney Nancy O’Malley noted at the time that Brown waited 16 days before she reported the incident and said, “We do not believe there exists sufficient evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a crime was committed.” The jury started deliberating this afternoon on whether to order punitive damages in the case.
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