A jury in Clayton County, Georgia, this week awarded a 20-year-old college student $1 billion in damages in her claim against a security company after she was raped by one of their armed guards. Hope Cheston, who was a 14-year-old girl at the time, was with her boyfriend outside a birthday party at an apartment complex in 2012. Brandon Lamar Zachary, a 22-year-old security guard employed by Crime Prevention Agency, approached. He was armed with a gun.
Zachary told Hope’s boyfriend not to move, and then he proceeded to rape Hope. He was convicted of statutory rape and child molestation, and is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence.
Hope’s mother filed a lawsuit against several parties on her daughter’s behalf, including Crime Prevention Agency that had hired Zachary, who was not licensed to be an armed guard.
Crime Prevention Agency and Hope’s mother both filed motions for summary judgment. Under Georgia law, parties may file motions for summary judgment when there is no real argument about the facts of a case, and a judge is able to determine whether a party is responsible for the alleged harm as a matter of law. In this case, the judge determined that Crime Prevention Agency was at least partially responsible for the sexual assault. It also is worth noting that Crime Prevention Agency never reached out to Hope to apologize. They did, however, change their name to International Security Agency Inc., likely in an attempt to avoid bad press and responsibility.
After responsibility was determined, a jury was enlisted to determine the value of Hope’s damages, including her pain and suffering. They heard testimony and saw evidence about how this crime affected her. From there, they were instructed to decide how much money it would take to compensate her. The jury decided on $1 billion.
Hope’s attorney, Chris Stewart, proclaimed, “What that number stands for is the most important thing,” he said. “We don’t care what we end up finally recovering from this company. We know they don’t have $1 billion. But it’s what 12 people in the state of Georgia said a victim of rape is worth that echoes louder.”
Billion dollar verdicts are rare nationwide. Nevertheless, this case shows that jurors may award extraordinary damages under such circumstances. While news outlets often avoid publishing the names of sexual assault survivors, Hope has bravely given the press permission to print her name. When she learned of her $1 billion award in damages, Hope said, “It was a shocking moment; it was a beautiful moment… It showed human kindness in its purest form.”
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