Civil Rights

Tampa lawyer gets $300K settlement in excessive force suit

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Tampa’s City Council agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a lawsuit filed byTampa lawyer who alleged he was arrested with excessive force for simply observing police officers’ handling of a fight between two women in a restaurant, the Tampa Bay Times reports. Brent Yessin had sued the city of Tampa and four officers in the Tampa Police Department: Michael Leavy, Joseph Reese, Dustin Kennedy and Shannon Murphy.

The incident happened in December 2008, when Aimee Marie Dias, a lawyer, entered the women’s restroom at SideBern’s late on a Saturday evening and said she saw a man and woman engaged in sex. Dias told police at the time that she confronted them and was assaulted. The two women ended up in a fight that spilled out to the restaurant bar area.

The fight had stopped by the time police arrived, and Yessin, waiting for the valet to bring his car, recognized one of the women and went over to tell her she had the right to remain silent and have a lawyer. When police determined Yessin did not represent the woman, they told him to leave and that he would be arrested if he didn’t.

Yessin said that he had a right to be present, and said that when he pulled out a pen to take down their names, Officer Leavy grabbed him. Police say Yessin tensed his arms in Leavy’s grasp, and the other three officers joined in taking Yessin down onto the floor.

Yessin said in the lawsuit he was kicked and punched by officers.

Yessin was charged with obstructing an officer without violence and jailed for four hours before posting $1,000 bond. Dias and the other woman were arrested for battery but dropped the charges against each other.

In 2009, a county judge dismissed (PDF) the charges against Yessin, ruling that he might have annoyed the police but that didn’t necessarily give them grounds to arrest him.

Yessin’s civil suit against the city and four police officers over the incident was upheld in a per curiam opinion (PDF) by the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in August.

Yessin’s suit cited a previous case in which Leavy was sued for his conduct in an arrest of a women on a charge of resisting an officer without violence. The charge against the woman was later dropped, and she won a jury award of $56,720. The suit also cited another excessive-force suit in which Reese was one of the officers named. The disorderly conduct charges against that man were later dropped, and the city of Ybor City ended up settling his lawsuit against that city for $165,000.

“When you violate people’s civil rights you’re not enforcing the law, you’re breaking it, and it’s time the Tampa PD instructs its officers you can’t arrest, let alone hit, bystanders,” Yessin told the ABA Journal. “Good cops have nothing to fear from public oversight, and bad cops don’t deserve to hide from it.”

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