Jurors ordered a Wisconsin gun store to pay nearly $6 million on Tuesday in a lawsuit filed by two Milwaukee police officers who were shot and seriously wounded by a gun purchased at the store.
The ruling came in a negligence lawsuit filed by the officers against Badger Guns, a shop in suburban Milwaukee that authorities have linked to hundreds of firearms found at crime scenes. The lawsuit said the shop ignored several warning signs that the gun used to shoot the officers was being sold to a so-called straw buyer who was illegally purchasing the weapon for someone else.
Officer Bryan Norberg and former Officer Graham Kunisch were both shot in the face after they stopped Julius Burton for riding his bike on the sidewalk in the summer of 2009. Investigators said Burton got the weapon, a Taurus .40-caliber handgun, a month before the confrontation, after giving $40 to another man, Jacob Collins, to make the purchase at the store in West Milwaukee.
One bullet shattered eight of Norberg’s teeth, blew through his cheek and lodged into his shoulder. He remains on the force but said his wounds have made his work difficult. Kunisch was shot several times, resulting in him losing an eye and part of the frontal lobe of his brain. He said the wounds forced him to retire.
Jurors sided with the officers, ruling that the store was negligent. Jurors ordered the store to pay Norberg $1.5 million, Kunisch $3.6 million and punitive damages of $730,000.
The officers’ lawyer, Patrick Dunphy, said Tuesday that he said his clients “feel very relieved,” though he anticipates years of appeals.
Defense attorneys declined to comment after the verdict was read. The owners and operators of the gun shop weren’t in court to hear the verdict.
The liability issues raised in the case gained national attention when U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton recently said she would push to repeal a George W. Bush-era gun law that Badger Guns’ lawyers said shielded the store from such claims.
The gun shop’s attorneys denied wrongdoing. They said the owner of the store at the time of the gun sale, Adam Allan, couldn’t be held financially responsible for crimes connected to a weapon sold at his shop and that the clerk who sold the weapon didn’t intentionally commit a crime. Rather, they said Collins and Burton went out of their way to deceive the salesman.
Badger Guns, previously known as Badger Outdoors, has since closed and been replaced by a gun shop called Brew City Shooters Supply. All three entities have been run by Allan family members.
Authorities have said more than 500 firearms recovered from crime scenes had been traced back to Badger Guns and Badger Outdoors, making it the “No. 1 crime gun dealer in America,” according to a 2005 charging document from an unrelated case.
Norberg and Kunisch cited that detail in their lawsuit, saying it showed a history of negligence.
Burton pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree attempted intentional homicide and is serving an 80-year sentence. Collins, the man who purchased the gun, got a two-year sentence after pleading guilty to making a straw purchase for an underage buyer.
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