Jury finds Vegans’ rights violated, but awards just $4

A federal jury in Atlanta also found that then-DeKalb homeland security Officer David Gorman acted with “malice or reckless indifference” to the protected rights of vegans Caitlin Childs and Christopher Freeman.

But in a verdict handed down late Thursday, the jury found the vegans’ harm was inconsequential. The jurors’ award: $1 in compensatory damages and $1 in punitive damages for Childs and the same for Freeman.

“This lawsuit was filed four years ago and has gone on until this trial, which lasted four days,” the officer’s lawyer, Howard “Tres” Indermark, said. “It’s sort of like a dollar a year for each litigant. We certainly take this as a win.”

The vegans’ lawyer, Gerry Weber, acknowledged his clients did not suffer much harm.

“This case was never about money,” he said. “It was about the vindication of their rights.”

Weber said he will ask to be reimbursed for his attorneys fees over the course of the litigation.

The hotly contested case included a pre-trial appeal to the federal appeals court in Atlanta, which ruled in the vegans’ favor.

The incident occurred in December 2003 when 10 to 20 vegans protested the HoneyBaked Ham store on Buford Highway near its intersection with North Druid Hills Road. As the protest ended, some of the vegans noticed a man sitting in a car taking pictures of them.

This man was Gorman, the undercover officer. Because he was wearing civilian clothes and sitting in an unmarked police car, the vegans did not know he was law enforcement. Out of concern for their safety, Childs and Freeman walked behind Gorman’s car, and Childs wrote down his license number.

Childs and Freeman then drove off to have lunch at a nearby restaurant.

According to court records, Gorman then became concerned about his own safety -- while also serving as a detective in the anti-gang unit, he drove his unmarked car home every day. Gorman got on his radio and said he was investigating the vegans’ car and asked for help, court records say.

When Childs and Freeman pulled into the restaurant, another DeKalb officer Mark Maphet, who also worked security for HoneyBaked Ham, questioned the vegans. He asked them for their identification and for Childs to hand over the piece of paper on which she’d written down Gorman’s tag number. She refused. The two vegans were soon arrested for disorderly conduct and taken to jail. Those charges were never pursued.

The vegans also filed suit against Maphet, but the federal jury found in his favor. Maphet is no longer on the force. In 2006, he pleaded guilty to charges that he scratched a woman’s car with his key in a dispute over a parking space. Prosecutors also said he used a racial slur.

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