Tampa approves $165,000 settlement of lawsuit over arrest of deaf man

TAMPA — The City Council on Thursday voted to pay $165,000 to settle an excessive-force lawsuit brought by a deaf man whom police punched, kicked and stunned with a Taser on an Ybor City sidewalk nearly four years ago.

Jacob P. Cowie, 30, sued four Tampa officers in federal court over his arrest after the 2010 Krewe of Sant'Yago Knight Parade. A disorderly conduct charge against him was later dropped.

The council did not question the settlement but did ask officials to report on Jan. 9 how much the city has paid this year to make its legal problems go away.

"It seems like more and more," said council member Frank Reddick, who asked for the report. This year, the council has approved:

• $35,000 for a former city engineer who said she was fired because she has Chinese ancestry and is a woman. The city also agreed to rehire her.

• $200,000 to the mother of a fifth-grader who drowned at the Cyrus Greene Park pool four years ago while three lifeguards were on duty.

• $260,000 to four men and a woman arrested in an investigation of the Latin Kings gang. The case was based largely on the work of a felon turned informer who was allowed to break several laws.

• $75,000 to a woman hurt by a falling tree limb as she walked along a Palma Ceia street.

Those settlements, however, are dwarfed by the $3.75 million the city paid to a developer in 2012 over a City Council decision in 2004 to deny plans for a proposed condominium tower on Bayshore Boulevard at DeSoto Avenue.

Of the $165,000 settlement in the Cowie case, nearly $8,800 would go to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service to cover Cowie's medical expenses. The rest would go to Cowie, who lives in Pinellas County, and his attorney, Michael Maddux.

"I think it's a solid settlement that reflects the egregious conduct that took place in this case," Maddux said. "I think a jury could have given him more money, but there's a value in closure and this case has gone on a long time."

Cowie said officers swarmed him as he was going to the aid of a friend being ejected from Gaspar's Grotto.

Officers said Cowie took a swing at the first officer who grabbed him. Cowie denies that. As that officer took Cowie to the sidewalk, Cowie's face slammed into a wrought-iron bench. Officers said they punched, kicked and used a Taser on Cowie because he would not stop resisting and let them see his hands.

Cowie suffered three broken bones in his face and a shoulder injury that not only required surgery, but also stopped his dream of a pursuing a career playing golf.

Cpl. Joseph J. Reese and Officers Gregory Pryor, Jayson G. Uriarte and John R. Gustafson were cleared by an internal affairs investigation. The city maintains police did not do anything wrong, but it did not want to risk taking the case to trial.

A bystander made a cellphone video of part of the arrest and posted it to YouTube. While city officials argued the video is misleading, a federal judge concluded that it "arguably contradicts the officers' version that plaintiff's hands were hidden under his body."

"On the contrary, the video appears to show Reese holding plaintiff's right arm even before the hitting, kicking and Tasering occur," U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas B. McCoun III wrote in an order denying the city's motion to dismiss the case on summary judgment. "The left arm, when visible, is seen up near plaintiff's head as he claims."

Frank Reddick wants a report on the city’s legal settlements.

Frank Reddick wants a report on the city’s legal settlements.

Tampa approves $165,000 settlement of lawsuit over arrest of deaf man 12/19/13 [Last modified: Friday, December 20, 2013 12:03am]

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