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Man suing Largo, 10 police officers over arrest

LARGO — A Pinellas County man has filed a suit against the city of Largo and 10 Largo police officers, saying police unnecessarily pepper-sprayed, beat and stunned him with Tasers before arresting him on unwarranted charges.

Elements of Brian Wilkinson's account differ from those of Largo officers, who say Wilkinson was violent and belligerent.

"He was not cooperative," said City Attorney Alan Zimmet. "They followed policy and acted properly."

Wilkinson, 34, ended up in the physical altercation with officers in November 2007 after he drove his black Chevy pickup truck into a fence in downtown Largo.

According to the suit filed last month and other documents in the case, Wilkinson was disoriented from a seizure. Wilkinson's lawyer, T. Patton Youngblood Jr., informed the city that Wilkinson thought he was being carjacked and was merely trying "to protect himself and flee his attack."

Neither Wilkinson nor Youngblood returned calls for comment by press time.

Wilkinson told authorities he did not remember fighting with officers. Here's his account, according to court and police records:

Wilkinson was heading for a cup of coffee before an early morning fishing trip when he suffered a seizure and lost control of his truck on Sixth Street NW. He hesitated to get out of his truck at first because he was confused, but did so after he was stunned with a Taser by an officer.

When officers asked him to get down, he asked them why. He was stunned again with a Taser and he ran. He was tackled by an officer and was then pepper-sprayed, stunned and beaten multiple times before he was handcuffed, the suit says.

But officers described a chaotic scene in which the spray, Taser strikes and other tactical moves were necessary to subdue Wilkinson.

"The subject was grunting and yelling in a hostile (manner), and, with his actions, confirmed my belief that he was not going to stop until he was handcuffed and restrained," one officer wrote in his report.

Officers said they repeatedly ordered Wilkinson to get out of the vehicle. One officer said Wilkinson resisted his efforts to pull him out of the truck and that he stunned Wilkinson after Wilkinson hit him in the face. Wilkinson was then ordered to the ground, and was stunned after he made a movement as if he was going to run. After that, Wilkinson ran and was taken down to the ground, where several officers tried to subdue him as he kicked and punched them, they said.

Officers said they were able to secure him with handcuffs and leg restraints after they stunned, sprayed and struck him with a baton on his back and side. Wilkinson was treated by a Largo Fire Rescue crew and transported to Morton Plant Hospital, according to the police report.

He was arrested that day on three counts of battery on a law enforcement officer and one count of resisting an officer with violence.

In January 2008, the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office dropped the charges. The case wasn't prosecuted because medical personnel informed authorities that Wilkinson suffered from a seizure disorder. He didn't have a conscious intent to fight the officers, said Pinellas-Pasco Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett.

"He wasn't really in control of his faculties," Bartlett said. Officers were unaware of his condition during the incident and apparently acted appropriately, Bartlett said.

"Nobody knew this was his situation until after the fact," Bartlett said.

Wilkinson is a licensed practical nurse, state records show. He lived in Largo at the time of the incident. Records show no other arrests in Florida.

In 2009, when Wilkinson's lawyer notified the city about his client's intent to seek damages, he told them Wilkinson sustained a broken nose, two black eyes, and numerous deep bruises. Youngblood said his client incurred $13,000 in medical bills, $5,000 in attorney fees and $152.50 in tow charges.

Wilkinson's suit, which seeks compensatory damages, says that in addition to permanent physical injuries he "has been brought into public scandal" and "suffered great humiliation."

If Wilkinson's case is successful, the most he likely could collect is $100,000 unless the Florida Legislature passed a special bill to grant a higher amount. Florida law gives governmental agencies sovereign immunity in such cases.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com.

Man suing Largo, 10 police officers over arrest 06/04/11 [Last modified: Saturday, June 4, 2011 4:31am]
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