TAMPA — City taxpayers will pay $80,000 to settle an Ybor City bar patron's lawsuit over injuries he said he suffered when a dart-like prong from a police officer's Taser pierced his eyeball.
The City Council on Thursday approved the settlement with 27-year-old Faraj Faraj of Westlake, Ohio.
Faraj sued the city in 2015, contending that he suffered permanent injury when Officer Christopher LaFramboise arrested him as Club Prana closed about 3 a.m. on Jan. 15, 2011.
In Hillsborough Circuit Court, Faraj and the city have given starkly different accounts of what happened:
Here's Faraj's version:
Faraj was leaving the bar on E Seventh Avenue on Jan. 15 when another patron attacked him. He said he punched the assailant twice, knocking him down each time, then began to walk away.
"Freeze!" LaFramboise yelled at Faraj, who said he stopped, turned and raised his hands.
"Taser!" LaFramboise shouted, and aimed his Taser at Faraj from about 6 to 8 feet away
"Don't tase me!" Faraj yelled back.
LaFramboise pulled the trigger. One of the prongs hit Faraj in the shoulder. The other lodged in his right eye.
Now here's the city's version, as told by LaFramboise and other officers in an incident report and by assistant city attorney Ursula Richardson in court pleadings:
LaFramboise said he first saw Faraj fighting another man. Bar security broke up the fight and sent each man in a different direction, but the second patron pushed Faraj and the two began fighting again. By the time officers got to the two men, Faraj had become the "primary aggressor" and was on top of the second man, LaFramboise said.
One officer on horseback said he tried to have his horse shoulder the two apart and told the two fighters to stop, but they ignored him.
LaFramboise said he drew his Taser, aimed at Faraj's right lower shoulder blade and yelled, "Taser! Taser! Taser!" As he fired, Faraj turned toward him and ducked down. He ended up being hit by the prongs in the shoulder and right lower eye lid. At the hospital, LaFramboise said, Faraj apologized repeatedly.
The force used against Faraj was reasonable "because he was actively engaged in a physical fight," Richardson said. Faraj was told to "stop fighting" by at least three officers, but resisted "hands-on" efforts to break up the fight and ignored all law enforcement commands prior to the Taser being deployed.
Moreover, she said, LaFramboise never pointed the weapon in or at Faraj's face. At the moment the Taser was deployed, Faraj did not have his hands up. The prong hit him in the eye as a "direct result" of Faraj moving his head to avoid the Taser after he heard LaFramboise yell.
Faraj was taken to Tampa General Hospital, where the Taser prong was surgically removed from his eye after about 10 hours, according to his lawsuit. He was hospitalized for five days. The retina of his right eye was torn and had to be surgically lasered together.
Faraj's hospital bill was $55,551, of which insurance covered $44,663, according to documents filed in the case.
Faraj later was given a notice to appear in court on a misdemeanor related to fighting, but prosecutors dropped the charge.
As a result of the injury, Faraj had to remain inactive while he recovered, to wear an eye patch and to refrain from driving. His lawsuit contends LaFramboise, who had been a Tampa police officer for two years at the time of the incident, was negligent by, among other things, firing from too far away and firing although the use of the Taser was unnecessary.
While City Hall denies any liability for Faraj's injury, its legal department recommended the council approve the settlement because Faraj could win more money if the case went forward.
In unrelated business, what a difference a year makes.
Last year, with Mayor Bob Buckhorn rumored to be leaving office early to run for governor or go work for a President Hillary Clinton, it took 14 ballots to elect a new Tampa City Council chairman — the person who would step into the mayor's office if the mayor left early.
But on Thursday, with Buckhorn having announced he won't run for governor and Donald Trump in the White House, the chairman selection was much less dramatic. Council members elected Yvonne Yolie Capin, now in her second full term, to wield the gavel for the coming year.
Contact Richard Danielson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times