Man Wins Battle With City Over Kennedy Assassination Photos
A Los Angeles man was awarded $450,600 Thursday by a Superior Court jury that found the city negligent for failing to return photographs that police confiscated after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.
The verdict was a vindication for Jamie Scott Enyart, 43, a Hollywood special effects artist, who called his eight-year struggle for compensation a classic match of “David versus Goliath.”
“I am absolutely thrilled,” said Enyart, who was 15 and on assignment for his Fairfax High School newspaper June 5, 1968, when Kennedy, seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, was shot to death in the Ambassador Hotel pantry by Sirhan B. Sirhan.
In a case laced with historical and haunting memories, Enyart had claimed for years that as a teenager he stood atop a table and captured the moment when Kennedy was shot.
Enyart said he took three rolls of film, capturing scenes of the senator falling and the pandemonium that followed, but that the film was taken by police. He sued for $2 million, alleging that the city either lost or destroyed his valuable historical documents and then tried to cover up its deeds.
City lawyers had accused Enyart of trying to make money off the tragedy. They maintained that Enyart had been at the Ambassador but had taken only one roll of film and could not have captured the pivotal seconds of the assassination because he was not in the pantry where Kennedy was shot.
“They took my film and they took it at gunpoint,” Enyart said after the verdict. “They promised that they would give it back and . . . asked me to wait for 20 years. I behaved as a good citizen and obeyed the law and . . I was punished.”
The verdict was yet another blow to the credibility of the Los Angeles Police Department, as a jury accepted accusations that its handling of Enyart, his photographs and the entire case was, at the very least, incompetent.
“We definitely thought the city and police screwed up all the way through,” said jury foreman Dorsey Caldwell.
The panel, which found the city and one of its police officers liable for negligence, awarded Enyart $299,700 in damages, $100,800 for the eight years he spent pursuing his film and $50,100 for the alleged destruction of his negatives.
Louis “Skip” Miller, a private attorney hired by the city at $225 an hour to handle the case, was tight-lipped after the decision, saying only that lawyers will decide later whether to appeal.
Miller had moved for a mistrial before the verdict was read, alleging juror misconduct and coercion. Superior Court Commissioner Emilie H. Elias, who presided over the trial, denied the motion.
But Miller indicated that those allegations--made by an excused juror who had been the panel’s foreman--would be pursued.
On Monday, Elias said Miller may have acted inappropriately by talking to the excused juror and said she would report his actions to the State Bar.
Enyart says his photos would have answered key questions about the assassination: from which direction the shots were fired and whether there was more than one gunman.
In the weeks following the slaying, investigators confiscated all known photos and film they could find from that night, including Enyart’s. He later learned that the case files would be sealed for 20 years. In 1988, when Enyart had begun a book on the assassination and requested the photos, the city said it had lost them.