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Taser stun and arrest could cost Tampa taxpayers $100,000

TAMPA — It was a late Thursday afternoon in 2008, and Eddy Leon Graddy was standing on the sidewalk on N Nebraska Avenue when three Tampa police officers rolled up.

What happened next left Graddy with a broken arm and a Taser barb in his back, prosecutors with a criminal case that fell apart and taxpayers with legal bills that soon could include a $100,000 settlement.

On Thursday, the City Council is scheduled to consider paying Graddy the settlement to drop a federal lawsuit against the city and the three officers.

City attorneys admit no wrongdoing but acknowledge that if the case went to trial, a jury verdict could cost the city more.

"We stand by our position that we do not have liability, and we're not accepting liability by attempting to settle the case," City Attorney Julia Mandell said.

An attorney for Graddy, now 51, declined to comment, but the story of the arrest and its aftermath is laid out in thousands of pages of pleadings in U.S. District Court in Tampa.

Police said they had received an anonymous tip that a man of about 30 wearing blue jeans, a white shirt and a black ball cap worn backward was selling crack.

Officers Robert Barrett, Christopher Cornelius and Chad Smith approached Graddy, then 45, who they said was in jeans, a white shirt and a backward ball cap, outside a hall near Ybor City where men play dominoes and asked him for his identification.

Graddy handed over his ID, and the officers began to talk to him about doing a "stop-and-frisk" search. Florida law allows officers to detain someone temporarily when circumstances "reasonably indicate" that the person might be involved in a crime. Officers can check the person's identity and ask about the circumstances that led to the officers' belief. The law also allows police to search for weapons if they have probable cause to believe the person is armed.

Graddy said in a deposition he complained about the idea of being searched where his kids could come by and see him. But he said Barrett told him, "We're going to search you your way or our way."

Barrett said in a deposition he told Graddy no such thing.

Graddy said he then saw Barrett seem to reach for something on his belt, and "I took off as fast as I could."

But Cornelius was close behind and gained ground on the older, heavyset man. During the chase, Cornelius said he saw Graddy pull something from his pants.

"He takes a baggy of a white substance, and I believe he was about to discard it or had discarded it, at which time I Tased him," he said in a deposition.

Graddy fell and was handcuffed. Officers found a small plastic bag with 12 grams of cocaine under his body.

Graddy complained of pain, but after being checked out by medics was taken to jail to be booked on charges of possession of drugs with intent to deliver within 1,000 feet of a church, possession of drug paraphernalia and opposing an officer without violence.

It was not his first arrest. From 1990 to 2001, Graddy served four sentences, all for less than a year, on charges that included sale or purchase of cocaine and aggravated assault and battery.

At the jail, a nurse told police Graddy needed medical attention, so they took him to Tampa General Hospital, which diagnosed a fracture in his left arm.

The following March, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Robert Foster dismissed Graddy's criminal charges.

Assistant Public Defender Brian Carnish argued that an anonymous tip didn't provide a well-founded suspicion that Graddy was committing a crime, and the officers didn't see anything to corroborate it.

Carnish also said Graddy was free to terminate his encounter with police, and the fact that he ran did not justify his arrest. Prosecutors did not object.

In 2012, Graddy filed a federal lawsuit alleging excessive force and a violation of his Fourth Amendment right against unlawful search and arrest.

In their pleadings, city attorneys argued that Cornelius used his Taser "to prevent the destruction of evidence" and to detain Graddy based on "arguable reasonable suspicion and/or arguable probable cause" of a crime.

U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew found for the officers on the claims of excessive force and denial of medical treatment, but allowed the claim of unlawful seizure for the Tasing and arrest to go forward when the settlement was reached.

Taser stun and arrest could cost Tampa taxpayers $100,000 09/02/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 2, 2014 11:02pm]
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