The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office was scheduled to be the subject of a hearing inside an Atlanta courtroom Wednesday following an appeal request in a 2008 lawsuit claiming the agency tolerates use of excessive force among its deputies.
The original lawsuit stems from a 2004 brutality case involving former Pinellas deputy Richard Farnham, accused of kicking and Tasering Dan Thompson while in Santa Rosa County for Hurricane Ivan relief. The Sheriff's Office cleared him of wrongdoing in 2005, but Farnham was later indicted and sentenced to one year in federal prison for violating Thompson's civil rights.
The Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office and Farnham were defendants in the lawsuit, but Santa Rosa eventually settled with Thompson, and Farnham filed for bankruptcy.
In February 2012, a judge dismissed the Pinellas Sheriff's Office from the lawsuit when evidence presented by plaintiff attorneys was not enough to prove a "widespread and persistent policy of tolerating the use of excessive force," court records show.
The judge "was critical of our evidence that we only had multiple allegations about one single officer," said Keith Weidner, Thompson's attorney.
In January, Weidner filed a notice of appeal in the 11th circuit court. Among the arguments he will present Wednesday includes case law that finds the Sheriff's Office's response to Farnham's actions is enough to reflect a larger problem within the agency.
"It's not the quantity of evidence," Weidner said. "It's the quality of evidence."
But Sheriff's Office general counsel Shannon Kennedy argues in court documents that the department has several procedures to keep employees accountable, evidence that Sheriff Bob Gualtieri "is not indifferent to the use of force by his deputies."
The Sheriff's Office declined comment, citing the case is ongoing.
After oral arguments Wednesday, it may be several months before a panel of judges decides whether or not the case will be presented to a jury, Weidner said.
Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] or (727)445-4157.