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Tampa looks to settle excessive force lawsuit for $165,000

TAMPA — Tampa taxpayers could pay $165,000 to settle an excessive force lawsuit over an Ybor City arrest the night of the 2010 Krewe of Sant'Yago Knight Parade.

Jacob P. Cowie, 30, sued four Tampa police officers in federal court, contending he was thrown face-first into a wrought-iron bench, beaten, kicked and Tasered after he tried to help a friend struggling with a bouncer outside Gaspar's Grotto.

A bystander captured part of the arrest on video and posted it to YouTube, where it has more than 62,000 views. The city objected to the video's use in the lawsuit, saying that among other things it was edited to show an officer kicking at Cowie six times instead of two.

A disorderly conduct charge against Cowie was dropped, but his lawsuit said he suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery and three fractures to bones in his face.

"I had huge gash on my forehead," he said in a deposition. "On the top of my head also. And then I had a black eye. My cheek was swollen for days."

Cowie says he had hoped to pursue a career in golf, but his shoulder injury added five to 10 strokes to his game.

One of the officers Cowie sued is Gregory Pryor, who has made news three other times:

• In October 2010, DUI manslaughter suspect Matthew Moye complained of his head hitting the pavement after Pryor took him to the ground to handcuff him at the scene of the crash.

• In July 2012, Pryor and another officer shot and killed 16-year-old Javon Neal after they say he pointed a shotgun at them at the Central Court Apartments. The state attorney concluded the officers were justified in using deadly force.

• In April, Pryor was charged with giving law enforcement officers false information and obstructing officers without violence after a traffic accident.

Pryor told investigators someone else was driving and ran away after the crash, but would not describe the driver. He later told a clinic and his insurance company he was driving, and his DNA was found on the car's airbag.

The charge was dismissed after he completed a misdemeanor intervention program.

Pryor is on administrative duty pending the outcome of an internal affairs investigation into that incident, police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said.

The case went last week to a complaint review board, which is standard for an officer facing suspension, demotion or termination.

In Cowie's case, an internal affairs investigation exonerated all four officers: Pryor, Cpl. Joseph J. Reese and Officers Jayson G. Uriarte and John R. Gustafson.

"By all accounts (video, witnesses and officers), Mr. Cowie was combative and resisting officers' attempts to control him," then-acting Capt. C.S. Courtoy wrote in the internal affairs investigation in late 2010. "His physical injuries are a direct result of this resistance."

Nonetheless, police have made two changes since then. First, the kind of kick delivered to Cowie is no longer acceptable.

"Historically, we taught it in the defensive tactics class, but it's been eliminated as an accepted tactic," McElroy said.

Also, when working large events, officers assigned to the areas with the highest number of people will be in full uniform. Three of the four officers who arrested Cowie were working undercover in plain clothes.

Pryor was the first officer to make contact with Cowie. He said in a deposition that he grabbed Cowie by the jacket and pulled him back from the friend and bouncer.

When Cowie took a swing at him — something Cowie denies — Pryor said he grabbed Cowie's wrist, pulled it out to the side, then put pressure on his shoulder and took him to the ground. During that takedown, Cowie's face apparently hit a bench.

Complicating the incident was that Cowie couldn't hear the officers yelling at him. Speaking through an interpreter, Cowie said in a deposition that he has been profoundly deaf since birth. He wears hearing aids, but often can't understand what people say.

"Everybody is giving him commands: 'Police.' 'Stop resisting,' " Pryor said. "There was a whole lot of 'Stop resisting.' "

As Cowie struggled, Pryor said he used his Taser twice to deliver a "drive stun" by pressing the Taser directly into Cowie's body.

Uriarte testified that he kicked Cowie while Cowie was on the ground because he was resisting arrest. Reese said he punched Cowie in the back of the head and the left shoulder to get him to stop struggling so he could be handcuffed.

"My main concern was the threat of him not showing his hands and not complying with our commands to stop," Reese said in a deposition.

Cowie said he was just trying to protect his head.

"I was in a fetal position," he said, with "my arms over my face."

Though officers said Cowie swung at Pryor, he was given only a notice to appear in court on a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct.

"We actually felt bad for the guy because he couldn't hear what we were saying," Reese said.

While the city denies doing anything wrong, city attorneys are recommending the City Council approve the $165,000 settlement at a board meeting Thursday.

A jury, they say, could award Cowie more if the case went to trial.

>>Fast facts

Hed goes here

A bystander caught part of the struggle that led to Jacob Cowie's arrest on a video posted to YouTube. City attorneys sought to have the video excluded from any trial on the grounds that it is misleading because it was edited and looped to show an officer kicking at Cowie six times, not two. See the video at Links in Today's Times at tampabay.com.

Tampa looks to settle excessive force lawsuit for $165,000 12/16/13 [Last modified: Monday, December 16, 2013 10:35pm]
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