LARGO — A routine traffic stop in 2006 might cost the city more than $100,000.
A Seminole woman sued Largo in federal court in March, accusing a former Largo police officer of arresting her without cause on a DUI charge, and of slamming her against a wall, breaking her ribs.
The officer said the arrest and use of force was justified, and the city's investigation into the case agreed. But Largo's legal staff has recommended settling the case for $65,000. When added to the $37,800 legal bill, the case's total cost is $102,800.
The City Commission was scheduled to vote Tuesday night on the settlement. "Due to mounting defense costs and the uncertainty associated with a jury trial, the city's legal counsel recommended settlement of this matter," a commission agenda item explained.
On Oct. 20, 2006, Largo police officer Justin Martens pulled Margaret Foltz over because her car was missing a taillight cover, according to his filings in the civil case. While talking to Foltz, 47, Martens smelled alcohol on her breath and noticed her eyes were glossy. Foltz initially denied drinking that night, but later admitted to having one or maybe two glasses of wine, Martens said.
Foltz refused to take a Breathalyzer, according to Martens. He arrested her and took her to the Pinellas County Jail where she "became belligerent and uncooperative and refused to walk to the Breathalyzer lab area," Martens wrote.
Foltz then "began to brace and tense her body and pull away from me, at which time I placed Ms. Foltz up against a wall in order to control her until she calmed down," Martens wrote.
Foltz had never been arrested before in Florida, according to state criminal records, and has not been arrested since. The DUI charge against her was dropped.
In her lawsuit against the city, Foltz said that Martens had no probable cause to arrest her. Her description of the incident in the jail is different. She says she suffered broken ribs and an injured shoulder as a result of being slammed three times against a brick wall without justification, and her lawyers submitted evidence they argue shows a history of questionable behavior by Martens.
One of those pieces of evidence is a video of Martens' other traffic stops the night he arrested Foltz. Largo's attorneys argued the video was irrelevant, but U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew ruled that one traffic stop from that night is relevant. In the video, according to Foltz's lawyers, Martens tells another officer, "I didn't smell nothing. I just tell everyone I can smell it."
The other officer replied, "It does stink."
"It smells like funk," Martens said. "It smells like a mixture of funk and alcohol."
Bucklew ruled out another piece of evidence, however. Foltz's lawyers wanted to make reference to a 2008 civil lawsuit against Martens and Largo for excessive use of force.
On Mar. 24, 2006, Martens responded to an accident and determined that one of the drivers involved was intoxicated, according to court records. He arrested the woman, Maria Jessica Godman, for DUI and leaving the scene of an accident, and when she got an arm free from the handcuffs, he struggled with her to get the cuffs back on. Martens broke Godman's arm, according to Godman.
Godman physically resisted the arrest, though, threatened to kill Martens, and attempted to kick out the police car's windows, all of which was captured on a video the judge referenced when ruling in Martens' favor.
Godman's attorney — Matthew P. Farmer — also represents Foltz, along with attorney John Davis Fernandez. Fernandez declined to comment on the case this week, citing the pending settlement, and declined to make Foltz available to speak.
Martens no longer works for Largo. He moved on to the Tampa Police Department. In 2005 he was honored by Mothers Against Drunk Drivers along with other Florida law enforcement officers who made more than 100 drunken driving arrests in a single year, according to a St. Petersburg Times story. While many of the other officers needed the entire year to compile that number, Martens made 104 arrests in just 61 workdays in late 2004.
Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or firstname.lastname@example.org.