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Court Leaves Intact Jury Award Won by Wrongly Jailed Louisiana Man

January 11, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court today left intact a $30,000 jury award won by a man jailed for 23 days as a witness in a shooting case resolved months before his arrest when the defendant pled guilty.

The court, without comment, rejected an appeal by a district attorney in New Orleans who said he was immune from being sued by the wrongly jailed man.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the award to Donald Mairena last May, calling what happened to him ″a bad dream.″

Mairena witnessed a shooting at a club in New Orleans on April 30, 1983. He chased the perpetrator, and later cooperated with authorities who interviewed him about the incident.

Mairena heard nothing further until he was arrested, almost two years later, Feb. 4, 1985, on a year-old warrant seeking his cooperation as a material witness.

He was held in the Orleans Parish Prison for 23 days even though the shooting incident defendant, Nicholas Ocasio, had pled guilty in the spring of 1984.

After he was freed, Mariena filed a federal lawsuit against three officials.

Orleans Parish Sheriff Charles Foti and Edwin Lombard, the parish criminal court clerk, settled the lawsuit out of court.

Allegations against a third public official, Orleans Parish District Attorney Charles Connick, went to trial, and a jury ordered Connick to pay Mariena $30,000.

The 5th Circuit court rejected Connick’s arguments that he is immune from such a suit. Connick said Mariena’s arrest was a mistake but it was not the policy or practice of the district attorney’s office to engage in such conduct.

The appeals court said, ″The jury could reasonably have inferred that the failure to establish policies to protect material witnesses from wrongful arrest and incarceration was the result of callous indifference and not mere negligence.″

It added: ″The evidence supports a finding that the district attorney himself was involved in the failure to establish procedures for safeguarding the rights of material witnesses.″

This case is Connick vs. Mariena, 87-592.

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