A jury in Georgia has handed down an astounding $1 billion verdict against a security company after one of its employees raped a 14-year-old girl, CBS News reported last week.
According to reports, Hope Cheston was sitting at some picnic tables with her boyfriend outside an apartment complex in 2012 when they were approached by an armed security guard who threatened the boyfriend to stay still while he proceeded to rape Cheston.
The guard, Brandon Lamar Zachary, is now serving a 20-year prison sentence for statutory rape.
In 2015, Cheston’s mother filed a lawsuit on behalf of her daughter who was a minor at the time. This Tuesday, the jury came back with a verdict against Crime Prevention Agency, who was Zachary’s employer.
Attorney L. Chris Stewart says Zachary should never have been employed by the company because he wasn’t licensed to be armed.
From CBS News:
The judge had already determined the security company was liable, so the jury was only determining damages, Stewart said. 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.
Attempts by the AP to reach the company for comment were unsuccessful. Online corporate registration information for Crime Prevention Agency shows that it was dissolved in 2016. The phone at a number listed online for Mario Watts, who’s named on the corporate registration as the CEO and identified in the lawsuit as the company’s registered agent, rang unanswered Wednesday.
The Associated Press does not generally identify victims of sexual assault, but Cheston, who’s now 20, said she wanted her name used. 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 in a phone interview with CBS News. “This shows that people do care about the worth of a woman.”
Although verdicts going up to hundreds of millions of dollars are not uncommon, the $1 billion verdict reached Tuesday is unprecedented.
“This jury was clearly trying to send a message about bad conduct on the part of the company,” Jeff Dion, director of the National Crime Victim Bar Association, told CBS News. “This jury was clearly trying to send a message about bad conduct on the part of the company.”
According to legal observers, the verdict will likely be appealed and the amount awarded will likely be lowered, but the message sent is undeniable.
Featured image via screen grab