Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

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]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Pinellas construction licensing board needs to be fixed. But how?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– Everyone agrees that the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board needs to be reformed. But no one agrees on how to do it.

    Rodney Fischer, former executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board Rodney, at a February meeting. His management of the agency was criticized by an inspector general's report. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  2. Sue Carlton: Job or family when a hurricane's coming — a very Florida conundrum

    Hurricanes

    It must seem as foreign to Northerners as shoveling snow is to those of us raised in the Sunshine State: The very-Florida conundrum of having to choose between work and family — between paycheck and personal safety — when a hurricane comes.

    A hurricane helps the rest of us acknowledge the police officers, paramedics, hospital personnel, public works employees and others who stay on the job despite the storm. 
  3. After Tampa concert, Arcade Fire members party, preach politics at Crowbar

    Blogs

    After waiting more than a decade for Arcade Fire’s first appearance in Tampa, fans didn’t have to wait long for their second.

    DJ Windows 98, a.k.a. singer Win Butler of Arcade Fire, performed at a "Disco Town Hall" at Crowbar following the band's concert at the USF Sun Dome on Sept. 22, 2017.
  4. Review: Arcade Fire open hearts, play with passion at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa

    Blogs

    Gloves off, hearts open and disco balls glittering, Arcade Fire scaled the stage for the first time ever in Tampa, pouncing and flailing and performing with all the passion that’s made them one of the world’s most celebrated rock bands this century.

    Arcade Fire performed at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa on Sept. 22, 2017.
  5. Lightning's Steven Stamkos looks close to top form in first game since November

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — The wait felt like forever for Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, having gone 10 months without playing in a game.

    A scramble in front of the Lightning goal has Matthew Peca, far left, and Erik Cernak, middle, helping out goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy during the third period of a 3-1 win against the Predators. Vasilevskiy, who made 29 saves, was “exceptional,” coach Jon Cooper says.