A Lakeland man filed a federal suit against the city's police force Friday, saying two officers who responded to a simple neighborly dispute tazed him then beat him. He has had four surgeries to correct injuries from the beating.
Joseph Florence, a retired pharmaceutical representative, and his attorney Robert McKee filed the suit in federal court against the City of Lakeland, its former and present police chiefs, Roger Boatner and Lisa Womack, and two of its officers, Heather Freeman and Nicholas Ivancevic.
"They stepped all over his constitutional rights while they were stepping on his head," said McKee. "These officers should have known better."
The incident happened on March 8, 2011. Florence had mowed and watered his neighbor's yard that day and the neighbor wasn't happy about it. He called police.
Florence's attorney says the officers had a right to give him a trespass warning, but nothing else.
"At that point, their job was over," McKee said. "When Mr. Florence said, "I'm finished talking with you' they had no right to restrain him, no right to require him to stay in that position and certainly no right to beat him," McKee added.
Florence said officers used a Taser on him, then beat him. He had broken bones around his eye sockets, nose and jaw. It's taken four surgeries to correct the cosmetic and nerve damage and Florence said he needs at least one more procedure.
"How many times I was struck, I couldn't tell you," he said. "The photos show on the brick pavement, the officer was ramming my head into the bricks."
The officers wrote in their Use of Force report that Florence became combative. The report also states that Florence drew back his right fist, hit one of the officers in the left jaw with an open handed strike, and at one point had Officer Ivancevich in a head lock.
But Florence said he was trying to protect himself. "I was telling them they didn't understand the law and I was tired of that," he said.
Police tried to get the courts to charge Florence with felonies, including Assault on a Law Enforcement Officer, but the state attorney in Orange County dismissed it all.
In response to the suit, Lakeland Police issued this statement to the media:
Florence believes the incident shows Lakeland Police need different training policies.
"The person who cuts your hair is required by the state of Florida to have 1,100 hours of training before they can put a license on the wall," he said. "A Lakeland Police Department officer is required to have 834 hours."
The suit, filed in Tampa's federal court, seeks damages for both physical and emotional problems stemming from the incident.
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