Longform

THE SPAN OF AN INJUSTICE

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The pictures show Grotewald smashing a handcuffed Darlene into a car and pinning Jerry onto another one.

Jerry and Darlene Span were charged with resisting arrest. Two years later, when the case came to trial, the photographs and eyewitness testimony were enough to convince at least five members of the jury that it was the marshals--not the Spans--who were responsible for the violence.

But, the jurors said later in statements, the judge's instructions appeared to give them no choice but to convict Darlene and Jerry of resisting arrest.

Basically, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Broomfield told the jurors that as long as the Spans did anything to resist marshals who were performing their official duties, they had to be found guilty.

The instructions Broomfield gave the jury read, in part: "Federal officers engaged in good faith . . . performance of their duties may not be forcibly resisted, even if the resistor turns out to be correct that the resisted action should not, in fact, have been taken."

Because Darlene and Jerry did wriggle and try to get away from Dains and Grotewald after the marshals jumped them, jury members said that they believed the law compelled a guilty verdict.

"The jury felt very sorry for [the Spans], but based on the instructions they got from the judge, they felt that they had no choice," recalls Oscar Goodman, a high-powered Las Vegas criminal attorney who defended the Spans.

Surely, Darlene and Jerry thought, the convictions would be reversed on appeal, and they could go on with their lives. Dershowitz, the prominent Harvard attorney, agreed to handle their appeal, calling the convictions outrageous.

He filed motions seeking reversal, claiming that the jury instructions Broomfield used were flawed, and that the jury had not been told that the marshals may have destroyed evidence by crushing Pete Span's roll of film into the ground.

Dershowitz also argued that defense attorneys were never shown grand jury testimony by an FBI agent that contradicted testimony Dains and Grotewald gave at the trial.

But the appeals, which eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, were all denied. To this day, the Spans stand convicted of resisting arrest.

And that is just the beginning of the troubles that have sprung from the fateful 1988 meeting with the marshals.

@rule:
@body:Although not logically connected, the Spans' legal troubles over the marshals incident have become curiously blended with the city's land-condemnation proceedings against the rest of the family, enmeshing the Span clan in a seemingly intractable web of litigation.

In 1989, various members of the family--though not Darlene and Jerry--were awarded a little more than $1 million for some of the family land that the city took.

Shortly thereafter, apparently believing that Darlene and Jerry would be coming into money, Dains and Grotewald filed lawsuits against the two for injuries they claim to have suffered while arresting the brother and sister.

Darlene and Jerry, in turn, sued Dains, Grotewald and the marshals service in federal court, claiming that their rights were violated.

Late last year, Darlene and Jerry's lawsuit against the marshals went to trial, and the Spans lost. Pollock, the attorney who represented them at trial, says it was difficult to convince a jury that the Spans deserved compensation for something that had led to their own criminal convictions.

An additional problem, Pollock says, was that--by the time she reached trial--Darlene Span had become so "obsessed and traumatized" by the ongoing legal problems that she was uncontrollable and abrasive during the trial.

"Juries only award money to people they like," Pollock says. "Darlene is not only totally obsessive about this case, but totally obsessive about control. It was two weeks of hell."
Pollock, who no longer represents the Spans, is one of a long list of attorneys Darlene, Jerry and other family members have run through during six years of legal wrangling.

Meanwhile, the city's second condemnation lawsuit against the family is still awaiting resolution six years after the property was taken. The city and Span family disagreed greatly over the value of the land, and the case dragged on as both sides played hardball.

The case finally was tried before a jury last year, which awarded the Spans $750,000 plus interest. Attorney Steve Hirsch, representing the Span family in that suit, says the last details are being worked out, but that various family members--though not Darlene and Jerry--will receive about $1.2 million.

Dains and Grotewald, however, tried unsuccessfully to intervene in that condemnation lawsuit. N. Warner Lee, the attorney representing the two marshals, says he wanted to ensure that, if Darlene and Jerry Span were due money from the city, it would be available to pay any possible future judgments that his clients might win against the Spans.

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David Pasztor