OAKLAND (CBS SF) — A jury Monday ordered Oakland City Councilwoman Desley Brooks to pay $550,000 in punitive damages to former Black Panther Party leader Elaine Brown damages for an incident in October 2015 in which Brooks pushed Brown down at an Oakland nightclub.
On Dec. 21, the same jury awarded the 74-year-old Brown $3.75 million in compensatory damages for the incident at the Everett & Jones BBQ restaurant near Jack London Square at about 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 30, 2015, in which she and Brooks, 56, got into an argument about a public housing project in West Oakland.
Brown’s attorney Charles Bonner alleged that Brooks, who was elected to the City Council in 2002 and represents District 6 in East Oakland, punched Brown 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 the rest of her life.
Bonner said the jury’s quick verdict Monday after less than two hours of deliberations “sends a message to those who will abuse political power and abuse the elderly that they will be held accountable and must pay.”
Brooks and her attorney Warren Metlitzky weren’t immediately available for comment about the jury’s verdict.
Bonner told the jury in his closing argument in the punitive damages phase of the trial earlier Monday that it should order Brooks to pay punitive damages “to make sure she doesn’t do this again.”
Bonner said Brooks 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.
He asked jurors to award Brown between $1 million and $3 million in punitive damages.
In its verdict in the compensatory damages phase of the case, 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.
Metlitzky said in his closing argument that Brown shouldn’t be awarded any punitive damages because she’s been punished enough by the compensatory damages verdict.
Metlitzky said that verdict has already been picked up by the national news media and will deter other people from engaging in similar abusive conduct.
“She will live with your verdict for the rest of her life and it will show up in every Google search of her name,” Metlitzky said.
He said jurors should be “fair rather than vengeful.”
Bonner said the city of Oakland’s liability insurance likely will pay the $3.75 million in compensatory damages but Metlitzky said Brooks will personally have to pay the punitive damages award.
Metlitzky said Brooks doesn’t have much money because she has still owes $150,000 in student loans, 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.
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.