An argument over a beverage landed Mark England on the wrong end of a police baton in 2007 at McCarran International Airport.
On Monday, a Las Vegas jury began hearing evidence in a civil rights case he later filed against the Metropolitan Police Department and two of its officers, Jason Jennings and Gary Clark.
“This was a beat-down,” attorney Brent Bryson said during his opening statement. “This was an old-fashioned beat-down delivered to Mr. England by those two defendants.”
Bryson said England, then a National Guard sergeant living in Southern California, had come to Las Vegas for a little “R&R” with a friend before an expected deployment overseas.
England was heading home on March 10, 2007, when he purchased a hot dog and a soda at the airport. An argument ensued after a Transportation Security Administration agent refused to let England take the soda past the C Gate’s security checkpoint.
Bryson said England believed he could take the soda with him if he showed a receipt proving he had purchased it at the airport.
England asked to speak to the agent’s supervisor, who later summoned Jennings to the scene.
“Mark never physically threatened defendant Jennings in any way,” Bryson told the jury.
England was allowed to leave, but he arrived at the C Gate to find that he had missed his flight and would not be able to catch another for three hours. He decided to return to the security checkpoint.
Bryson played a poor-quality surveillance video for jurors as he explained what happened next.
“Mark was savagely beaten by defendant Jennings with a baton,” the lawyer said, raising his voice.
He said Clark then used an electroshock weapon at least three times on England. Bryson said England fell after the first shock and hit his head on a door jam.
The lawyer showed pictures of England’s injuries to the jury. He said they included bruises, lacerations and three broken ribs.
While England is seeking unspecified damages in the case, attorney Craig Anderson said the two officers will be seeking the restoration of their reputations.
Anderson said no one disputes the contention that Jennings had a right to take England into custody that evening at the airport. Jurors must decide whether the officers used reasonable force to carry out the arrest, the lawyer said.
“This is a situation that was created and escalated by Mark England himself,” Anderson said.
The lawyer said everyone involved in the incident wanted the same outcome: “They wanted Mark England to get on a plane and go home.”
Anderson accused England of attempting to hide his illegal activities behind his military uniform.
“On that day Mark England was a regular citizen,” Anderson told the jury.
The lawyer said Jennings thought he had put an end to the confrontation when he walked England to the tram that leads to the C Gate.
But England soon came back “to escalate a situation that had been de-escalated,” Anderson said.
The lawyer said Jennings tried again to defuse the conflict when he sent England to get a new boarding pass, but England began using profanity and refused to cooperate, prompting the officer to tell him, “Turn around and put your hands behind your back.”
Anderson said England resisted arrest, causing Jennings to pull out his baton and order England to get on the ground.
“Now all he has to do is get on the ground, but he doesn’t take orders from other people,” Anderson said.
The lawyer said Jennings began striking England with his baton before Clark arrived and used his electroshock weapon. Anderson said England never tried to get on the ground.
“The only person who wanted to fight that day was Mark England,” Anderson told the jury.
Bryson called Jennings, who joined the Metropolitan Police Department in 1999, as his first witness Monday.
England is now 44 and a National Guard staff sergeant who lives in Searcy, Ark.
Senior U.S. District Judge Philip Pro is presiding over the trial.
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-384-8710. Find her on Twitter: @CarriGeer.