Monday, September 24, 2018
News Roundup

Hernando couple alleging deputies broke husband’s eye socket seek $10 million in federal trial

TAMPA — The telling of what transpired at a Hernando County home one day in 2009 differs depending on whom you ask.

Michael Bratt and his wife, Marjorie Youmans, say they were cleaning up after a Christmas party when deputies illegally entered their property, shocked Bratt with a Taser, and beat him so badly his eye socket was crushed, causing his eyeball to descend into his cheek cavity.

The deputies say Bratt was drunk when he lashed out at Steven George, dragged the deputy into the house, bashed his face into a coffee table and shocked him with his own Taser.

A jury will be asked to decide which story is true. Testimony began Tuesday in a federal trial over a $10 million lawsuit the couple filed against three deputies, alleging excessive force and false arrest.

"It could have been any family celebrating Christmas," attorney Steve Yerrid told the jury. "This cannot be allowed to stand."

Deputy George and fellow Deputy Louis Genovese sat quietly at a defense table as their attorney, Bobby Palmer, told the jury that Bratt was to blame for what happened.

"This case represents probably every police officer’s worst nightmare," said Palmer, who also represents former deputy Kenneth Van Tassel.

RELATED: TEXT

George was among the first witnesses to testify. He spoke matter-of-factly, glancing occasionally at Genovese, as he related his account.

The incident began with a noise complaint on a rural stretch called Snow Hill Road. A neighbor, known for placing frequent calls to law enforcement, reported hearing an explosion about 1:30 a.m. on Dec. 26.

When George arrived, the neighbor directed him to Bratt’s home next door. The deputy hopped a fence that surrounded the property. He didn’t bother trying a call box at the front gate, Yerrid told jurors.

When George knocked at the front door, Bratt yelled that he was trespassing, the deputy said. Bratt opened the door and asked to see the deputy’s badge. George shined a flashlight on the front of his uniform, he said.

At some point, Bratt’s wife stepped outside and stood behind the deputy as Bratt tried to grab her, George said. Bratt then grabbed the deputy.

George described being pulled into the house, through a hallway and into the living room. He said blood began to gush from his nose as his face slammed into a coffee table. He said Bratt grabbed his Taser, then shocked him as the struggle continued.

Although George claimed his nose was broken in the living room, and that he later crawled all the way back to the front door, he admitted that photographs from the scene show blood drops only in the foyer.

In an opening statement, Yerrid suggested that the deputy’s nose was actually broken when he plowed through the door and smacked his face on a wall.

Fellow deputies hustled to the home after hearing George’s radio calls, which included reports of a "deputy shot" and a "deputy stabbed." After their arrival, Bratt was taken out of the house and beaten, Yerrid said.

Geneovese, who weighed in excess of 300 pounds, drove his knee into Bratt’s face, crushing his orbital bone, Yerrid said. Photographs show him lying on grass, his cheeks streaked with blood, his mouth open, and one eye swollen shut.

Yerrid asked George about one photo, which shows Bratt lying face-down as a deputy stands with one foot placed on his back.

Had the deputy heard of it being called a "trophy photo?" Had he seen it displayed prominently around the Sheriff’s Office?

George’s answer to both: "No."

Palmer told the jury the eye injury occurred as Bratt tried to bite Deputy Van Tassel, who pushed him away, causing his face to hit a wall.

"But for Michael Bratt’s conduct, he would not have sustained that injury," Palmer said.

Though he was charged in state court with battery, a jury found Bratt not guilty.

RELATED: Legal lion Barry Cohen reveals leukemia and tells how it changed his priorities

The couple alleges that Genovese stopped repeatedly to continue to beat Bratt as he took him to a hospital in a patrol car. Their lawsuit also notes that George’s Taser was unaccounted for after the incident and that when it was examined later its data "appeared corrupted."

Tampa attorney Barry Cohen filed the lawsuit on behalf of Bratt in 2013. Cohen, battling leukemia, asked his longtime friend Yerrid to take over.

The trial is expected to last two weeks.

Contact Dan Sullivan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

This story has been updated to reflect the following correction: The home where the 2009 incident occurred is on Snow Hill Road. An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect street name. An earlier version of this story also included misspellings of the names of Marjorie Youmans and Deputy Kenneth Van Tassel.

   
Comments
Firefighters respond to blaze in Lakewood High School gymnasium

Firefighters respond to blaze in Lakewood High School gymnasium

St. Petersburg firefighters responded to a fire early Monday morning in the gymnasium at Lakewood High School.According to St. Petersburg Fire Rescue, firefighters responded to the school around 5:40 a.m. after a maintenance worker discovered the fir...
Updated: 4 minutes ago
Hooper: Don’t trade progress for pennies. Reject Amendment 1

Hooper: Don’t trade progress for pennies. Reject Amendment 1

A lot of Tampa Bay city and county elected officials should be sounding the alarm about Amendment 1.The amendment, one of 12 voters will find on the November ballot, increases the maximum homestead exemption from $50,000 to $75,000, but the devil is ...
Updated: 18 minutes ago
Drive for January: A look at how the top Group of 5 teams fared

Drive for January: A look at how the top Group of 5 teams fared

For the first time this season, we're examining how USF stacks up in comparison to the other serious Group of Five contenders for the New Year's Six bowl berth.The Group of Five conference champion ranked highest by the College Football Playoff commi...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Port Tampa Bay marks 1 million cruise passengers in a year for the first time ever

Port Tampa Bay marks 1 million cruise passengers in a year for the first time ever

TAMPA — Port Tampa Bay last week welcomed its 1-millionth cruise ship passenger for the first time ever in a single year.The port hit the milestone on Sept. 17, when the count hit 1,000,524 for this fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30. It rose furthe...
Updated: 1 hour ago
The Daystarter: Building a wall against Red Tide; PolitiFact on a proposed $1 billion tax hike; Dungy goes into Ring of Honor

The Daystarter: Building a wall against Red Tide; PolitiFact on a proposed $1 billion tax hike; Dungy goes into Ring of Honor

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today.• We’ll have scattered afternoon showers and thunderstorms, according to the National Weather Service. Highs today will be in the lower 90s.• As you head out for your morning commute, c...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Hillsborough deputy fatally shoots wife, turns gun on himself with children in home

Hillsborough deputy fatally shoots wife, turns gun on himself with children in home

LAND O'LAKES -- A Hillsborough County deputy fatally shot his wife early Monday morning before turning the gun on himself in an apparent murder-suicide, according to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.In an early-morning news conference, Pasco County ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
PolitiFact Florida: $1 billion Florida tax hike? Andrew Gillum proposes increasing state corporate tax

PolitiFact Florida: $1 billion Florida tax hike? Andrew Gillum proposes increasing state corporate tax

A TV attack ad portrays Florida Democrat Andrew Gillum as so "far out" that he is on another planet."Gillum wants to increase Florida taxes by a billion dollars. Disaster for the economy," says an ad by the Republican Governors Association showing Gi...
Published: 09/24/18
The ‘Murphy Brown’ revival is re-entering a very different TV space. Can it succeed?

The ‘Murphy Brown’ revival is re-entering a very different TV space. Can it succeed?

In one of the first episodes of the rebooted Murphy Brown, the show’s title character, back at it after all these years, faces a quandary.Murphy, a celebrity TV journalist, is being pushed by network executives to conduct an interview. It’s a chance ...
Published: 09/24/18

Hernando Briefs for Sept. 28

COUNTYWIDEVolunteer for art council vacanciesHernando County Commissioners are accepting applications from individuals wishing to serve on the Fine Arts Council. The purpose of the council it to promote the arts and support groups associated with the...
Published: 09/24/18
Hillsborough asking why rescue captain stayed back as patient’s friends performed CPR

Hillsborough asking why rescue captain stayed back as patient’s friends performed CPR

TAMPA — It was almost 4 a.m. when the man’s friends found him unconscious in a Riverview home and called 911.His breath was shallow and he was turning blue. With the 911 call-taker giving instructions, his friends performed CPR and waited.Ten minutes...
Published: 09/24/18