Birmingham Woman Awarded $10 Million For Sex Assault by Police Officer

A Birmingham woman has been awarded a $10 million default judgement by a Jefferson County judge after she claimed she was sexually assaulted by a former police officer when she was just a teen.

Circuit Judge Michael G. Graffeo awarded the damages to Daria Collins, who was just 17 when the attack is said to have happened in 2007. She filed the lawsuit against the former officer – Harry E. Miller Jr. – in 2011. Police and city officials had previously been removed from any liability in the case.

According to court records, as well as a press release from her attorneys, Collins was staying at America’s Best Inn on Messer Airport Highway in September 2007 while her home was being renovated. On the day she checked in to the hotel, she was pulled over by Miller, who was on duty at the time.

During the traffic stop, Collins gave the officer her name and then returned to her hotel. Miller reportedly then followed her back to the room, forced his way through the front door and then sexually assaulted her.

Collins’ attorneys are Matt Garmon and Todd Wheeles of Morris, Haynes, Wheeles, Knowles and Nelson. She also was represented by Anthony J. Piazza.

No criminal charges were ever filed against Miller in the incident, court records show. It wasn’t immediately clear to what extent, if at all, criminal charges were pursued.

Miller was fired on Nov. 15, 2007 by former police Chief Annetta Nunn, just two months after he assaulted Collins. “This is a stand-alone case,” Birmingham police spokesman Lt. Sean Edwards, noting all police and city authorities had been removed from he suit. “All officers are expected to serve with ethics, effort and excellence.”

The victim’s attorneys say Miller had been previously suspended multiple times and that three other women had previously complained to the department that Miller had attempted to use his position to coerce and intimidate them into granting sexual favors.

A hearing in the lawsuit was held before Graffeo on Dec. 28, at which point the judge noted in his final order that Miller had failed to respond to numerous requests to be deposed in the case and failed to attempt to defend himself in the case. The December default judgement was the second in the case against Miller.

Miller, the judge noted, “has failed to plead or otherwise defend this action.”

Graffeo awarded Collins $10 million. Of that amount, $3.5 million was for compensatory damages for the trauma Collins endured as a result of the sexual assault, and $6.5 million in punitive damages.

“Collins has suffered severe and traumatic injuries as a direct and proximate result of Miller’s wrongful, wanton, intentional conduct,”Graffeo wrote in the Dec. 29 order. “Moreover, her injuries are not solely personal injuries, but rather, she has suffered and continues to suffer, significant mental anguish and emotional distress.”

“In addition to medical care for her brutal injuries, she has also sought and received professional treatment for her anguish and distress,” according to the order. “She continues, even though the event took place several years ago, to have vivid nightmares about her ordeal. Periodically, as she drives her car, when she sees a City of Birmingham Police Department cruiser, she become fearful she will be stopped and subjected to the same type of conduct Miller inflicted upon her.”


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