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Woman, police settle mistaken arrest lawsuit

On the first and only night Nicolette Shepard spent in a jail cell, the woman next to her screamed all night.

Another female inmate, who was coming down from a methadone high, claimed to be God. She ordered Shepard to bow down to her or go to hell.

Shepard, 33, felt she was already there. She didn't sleep. She cried. She refused to use the restroom.

Jail isn't meant to be pleasant for anyone, but Shepard shouldn't have been there in the first place. She was wrongfully arrested and jailed on a traffic charge in which she should have only received a ticket and a $30 fine.

She sued the Clearwater Police Department and the officer who arrested her in May. Last week, city attorneys and Shepard's attorney settled the case. Shepard will receive $25,000 from the city, about one-third of which will go to her attorney.

An internal police investigation found that the officer who arrested Shepard, Sgt. Richard Harris, made an unlawful arrest. Police Chief Sid Klein agreed with the finding Friday and will meet with department staffers to determine Harris' punishment.

"We made a mistake," police spokesman Wayne Shelor said of the arrest. "We were wrong."

Harris declined to speak with a reporter, but police officials say he is a top-notch officer. He is highly decorated, with a personnel file thick with commendations and praise, including letters from citizens and a unit citation from Klein.

In his more than 21 years with the department, Harris has been the subject of an internal affairs investigation only once before. He received a letter of reprimand in 1996 for permitting an escape.

Shepard said last week that she has lukewarm feelings about the settlement. She mostly doesn't want this happen to anyone else.

"I don't want anyone to go through what I had to go through," she said. "How much is 24 hours of your life worth? I cannot put a price on my life."