Judge grants new trial to trooper in tribal smoke shop raid

Providence, Rhode Island (AP) 6-08

A federal judge ordered a new trial in a lawsuit brought by a member of the Narragansett tribe who sued state police for a violent 2003 raid on a tribal smoke shop.

Adam Jennings’ ankle was broken in the July 14, 2003, raid at the shop on tribal land in Charlestown. A jury in 2005 found that trooper Kenneth Jones used excessive force when he was trying to subdue Jennings, and awarded Jennings just over $300,000.

U.S. District Judge Ernest Torres granted Jones’ request for a new trial. He said testimony from state police was more credible than that of Jennings and two other plaintiffs’ witnesses.

Torres cast doubt on whether a shop worker and a customer who testified during a five-day trial could have seen Jennings’ struggle with state troopers. He also questioned Jennings’ recollections.

Torres had earlier overturned the jury award and ruled state troopers used reasonable force, but the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found Jones did violate Jennings’ constitutional rights and reinstated the award.

The attorney general’s office said it was pleased with the decision. But Jennings’ mother, Paulla Dove Jennings, said she was upset.

“There is no justice for any Narragansett in the state,” she told The Providence Journal.

Jennings was one of seven tribe members who faced misdemeanor criminal charges after the raid on the smoke shop, which was selling cigarettes without collecting state taxes.

He was acquitted last month after a trial in Providence Superior Court, but three other tribe members, including Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas, were convicted of either simple assault or disorderly conduct. The three are seeking a new trial.