A Georgia jury is making a security company pay big time after one of its guards at an apartment complex was convicted of raping a 14-year-old girl.
On Tuesday, jurors in Clayton County, Ga., awarded the victim $1 billion in compensatory damages in a civil lawsuit against Crime Prevention Agency Inc., the security company that employed her rapist. Her lawyers believe it is, by far, the largest jury verdict ever awarded in the United States in a sexual assault case.
Hope Cheston was outside by some picnic tables with her boyfriend during a party in October 2012 when an armed security guard approached, attorney L. Chris Stewart told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The guard told the boyfriend not to move and proceeded to rape Cheston, Stewart said.
The guard, identified in the lawsuit as 28-year-old Brandon Lamar Zachary, was convicted of statutory rape in 2016 and is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence, online prison records state.
In March 2015, Renatta Cheston-Thornton filed a civil lawsuit against Crime Prevention Agency on behalf of her daughter, who was still a minor at the time. She accused the security company of negligence in their training and performance and of failing to keep a 14-year-old girl safe. She also claimed that Zachary, who was 22 at the time of the rape, had no business even being hired because he wasn’t licensed to be an armed guard.
The judge in the civil suit had already found the company guilty of negligence, and the jurors were brought in to determine the amount of the damages. Stewart, who has tried a lot of sexual assault cases, said he asked jurors to really determine the value of the pain caused by the rape, but admits he was shocked when the jury decided on $1 billion.
“I was really proud of the jury because there is no basis in the legal world for how high a rape verdict can be,” he said.
Verdicts in the tens of millions of dollars, or even hundreds of millions, are not uncommon, Jeff Dion, director of the National Crime Victim Bar Association said in an email. But he’s never heard of a $1 billion verdict in a case with a single victim. “This jury was clearly trying to send a message about bad conduct on the part of the company,” Dion wrote.
After reading the verdict, Stewart said, jurors immediately left the jury box — without waiting for the judge’s permission — to hug Cheston and her mother.
Cheston, who’s now 20, is a full-time college student who plans to spend her summer working with an organization in downtown Atlanta that helps homeless people. Cheston said she wants her story to provide strength for other sexual assault victims.
“I feel like my case is just to show that you may not get it immediately, but you will get what you’re worth,” Cheston said. “This shows that people do care about the worth of a woman.”