TAMPA — The allegations at the core of Michael Bratt’s lawsuit against three Hernando County deputies have been repeated in court papers for eight years since his violent arrest.
But on Monday, a federal jury in Tampa heard Bratt describe in his own words the night his eye socket was crushed.
The 54-year-old spoke in a low voice as he recounted a surprise visit from deputies early the morning after Christmas 2009.
Bratt and his wife, Marjorie Youmans, are suing the deputies — Steven George, Louis Genovese and Kenneth Van Tassel — over an encounter that pushed Bratt’s eyeball into a sinus cavity.
It was after 1 a.m. when the couple heard a loud bang at their front door.
Bratt asked who it was and in response, he said, heard, "Errif!"
He cracked the door. It was dark. He said he couldn’t see Deputy George’s uniform. Bratt told George he was trespassing.
In court, Bratt said he wasn’t sure George was a real deputy. He asked to see identification and the deputy shined a light on his badge.
"I actually wanted to see his ID card," Bratt said. "Anybody can get a badge." He saw no patrol car. George had parked next door and hopped a fence.
Bratt’s wife joined him at the door and began to yell at the deputy, Bratt said. He put his hand out and told her to go back to their bedroom. The deputy cried out, "domestic violence!"
Bratt felt Taser prongs hit him. He fell back as George flew through the door.
He removed the Taser wires, then saw George on hands and knees in the adjacent living room. Blood gushed from the deputy’s nose as he struggled to get up.
Bratt said he picked up the Taser and tried to hand it back to the deputy but George tried to Tase him again. He then put Bratt in handcuffs.
As more deputies arrived, Bratt said he was dragged out of the house. He asked what he had done.
"This is what we do to people who beat up our officers," he said one deputy replied.
Bratt was put on the lawn. He said Van Tassel donned a pair of black and gray gloves and began to punch him repeatedly. Other deputies then joined in, looking around before hitting and kicking or dropping their knees onto him, Bratt testified.
Genovese placed a knee on his neck, Bratt said, then drove the other knee into his right eye 15 times. Bratt said he heard his orbital bone crack. He screamed.
Later, after he was placed in the back of Genovese’s patrol car, the deputy drove at high speeds before slamming on the brakes, Bratt said. The sudden, repeated stops, caused Bratt to slam forward into a grate, he said. Blood and mucus shot into the front seat. The deputy would later say Bratt spit on him.
"They shoved a dirty gym towel into my mouth," Bratt said. "I could taste the B.O. and salt."
Bratt said the deputy stopped three separate times on the way to the hospital to continue beating him. He told the jurors the exact location of each stop.
The repeated blows loosened his teeth, which he later had to have taken out, he said. Attorney Steve Yerrid asked Bratt to show the jury the damage.
Bratt reached in his mouth, plucked out a row of dentures, and set them in a glass of water.
He spent 22 days in jail on a battery charge for which a jury ultimately found him not guilty. He said he has lasting health effects from the injuries he suffered, including frequent sinus infections and lingering pain.
Yerrid asked if Bratt has nightmares over what happened.
"Every night," he said. "I still think about it every day."
Does he feel safe in his own home? "No, not where we are."
How would he describe his loss? "Enormous."
Bratt’s lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $10 million. The trial is expected to last through this week.
Contact Dan Sullivan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.