In his mug shot, Joseph Liebl's eyes are swollen shut, the injuries just hours old, his sockets turning deep purple. His nose is cut, his face is scuffed red. His bottom lip is swollen.
Pasco deputies did this to him Feb. 17 and said they were justified in doing so. Liebl, 35, had "super human" strength from narcotics, they said, and it took three deputies to handcuff him. They said he fought, reached for a knife, threatened to murder them and spit blood in a deputy's face — then declared he is positive for Hepatitis C.
"It can turn quickly from trying to handcuff an individual to fighting for your life," said Pasco Sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin.
As he tried to spit again, a report states, a deputy punched him in the face, even though Liebl was already handcuffed.
• • •
It started about 5 p.m. Feb. 17 at 3133 Dole St., a canary yellow home in Holiday where deputies responded to a domestic battery call. Because of prior experience with people at that address, additional deputies arrived: Brian Spiegel, 40, Matthew Abare, 25, and Samuel Perez, 55. Earlier that day, Spiegel had been there to help one of the adults in the house return to get some clothing. He said Liebl was "irate" and appeared to be drunk and on drugs. Spiegel had to tell Liebl several times to calm down, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office report states.
And now they were back at the house.
Deputies found Kaley Price, Liebl's 25-year-old girlfriend, who was bruised and bleeding and too scared of her boyfriend to tell deputies what happened, authorities said.
"He will hurt me again," she said, according to the report.
As Liebl was taken outside and told he was under arrest, he bolted, deputies said.
Spiegel grabbed the back of Liebl's shirt as Liebl toppled a motor scooter in the deputy's path, the report states. Spiegel and Liebl both fell onto the concrete driveway, with Liebl's face taking the blow, the Sheriff's Office said. The impact was so severe that it broke Spiegel's right ring finger in two places and tore a tendon.
Spiegel said in the report that when the two were on the ground, Liebl "tried to climb on top of me" but he was able to knock him on his back. Deputies Perez and Abare helped try to restrain Liebl, whom they said had an "unusual" amount of strength. To get Liebl to stop resisting, Spiegel said he hit him twice in the face "as it was the only location to strike him, in an attempt to get him to stop his physical and violent resistance," the report states.
A knife fell out of Liebl's pocket and the deputies said Liebl tried to reach for it, while saying, "I am going to kill you, mother f------."
Spiegel punched him in the face again "which stopped him reaching for the knife," he wrote. Spiegel was able to toss the knife out of reach and the three deputies got Liebl handcuffed.
Spiegel said he noticed Liebl's face was bleeding and asked Abare to call for paramedics. Spiegel continued to restrain Liebl by holding him with his knees and his hands. Liebl said he couldn't breathe, so Spiegel rolled him partly on his side.
"Joseph immediately and purposely spit his blood onto my face," Spiegel wrote. "He then exclaimed he was Hepatitis C positive. It was clear to me he was attempting to spread a communicable disease."
As Liebl spit again, Spiegel "redirected his face by striking him with my right hand in the face." The spit missed Spiegel a second time.
"That final strike to Joseph's person had positive results," Spiegel wrote, "because Joseph stopped resisting and stated, 'Please let me breathe. I am done.' "
• • •
Liebl, with a history of drug and traffic offenses dating to 1996, told authorities he had been drinking alcohol and taking PCP. While being treated at the scene, he "kept stating he was punched in the face while handcuffed, you can not do that," the report says.
Liebl is charged with aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer, battery on a law enforcement officer, two counts of resisting arrest with violence and domestic battery. He's being held at the Pasco jail in lieu of $65,500 bail. He declined an interview request by the Times.
The Pasco County Sheriff's Office also declined the Times' request to interview Spiegel about the incident.
Spiegel, who has been with the agency since 2009, has no prior disciplinary problems, according to agency records. Tobin said Spiegel has been on medical leave since the incident.
A use of force investigation is underway, as is protocol any time a deputy uses force in a situation, Tobin said. The agency's policy on use of force states that it is to be used when necessary — and that type of force has a wide range, fists, pepper spray, baton, Taser, gun.
"In this particular case (Spiegel) chose to use the physical use of force," Tobin said.
After Liebl was restrained, his girlfriend thanked deputies profusely. She said this wasn't the first time he beat her, the report states.
"Now he knows what it feels like," she told deputies.
Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.