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Manhandled air traveler wins suit

On a Sunday night nine years ago at Miami International Airport, Eastern Airlines was in the throes of a customer-relations problem: After bumping passengers from several flights, its gate agents herded 600 to 700 customers toward a New York-bound plane with room for 315.

Jack Lemonik, his wife and five children were among the throng headed for the jetway, boarding passes in hand. Suddenly, Lemonik, a management consultant and holder of three master's degrees from Columbia University, became embroiled in a struggle with two Metro-Dade police officers.

The grappling that followed ended in Lemonik's arrest, a flood of bad press and a lawsuit against Dade County and its police department for false arrest and use of excessive force.

Monday, a Dade County jury awarded Lemonik $400,000 in damages, the second time in less than a week that the police department has found itself on the short end of an excessive use-of-force case. Last week, another state court jury awarded $2.2-million to Donald Heaven after he alleged a Metro-Dade officer fractured his wrist and doused his wounds with undiluted alcohol.

At a trial before Circuit Judge Fredricka Smith, three witnesses said Lemonik was never the aggressor and never used a baby carrier as a weapon, as widely reported in the media. The month before the incident, he had undergone retinal surgery in both eyes.

_ Compiled from Times wires