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Tampa taxpayers to pay $78,500 in lawsuit over arrest outside downtown nightclub

TAMPA — The City Council voted Thursday to pay $78,500 to a former University of Tampa student who sued the city in federal court, contending a Tampa police officer used excessive force in arresting her outside a downtown nightclub on Valentine's Day 2014.

Rachel Stockwell, now 21, said she suffered memory problems and had to withdraw from school after her head was slammed into the pavement outside Club 912 on Franklin Street.

"I couldn't remember, like, hardly anything," Stockwell said in a deposition in April. "A lot of people that I've been friends with, I couldn't remember their names."

And although the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office decided to drop the misdemeanor charges of criminal mischief and opposing an officer against Stockwell, she said information online about the arrest has prevented her from getting jobs.

Tampa police fired the officer, Antwan S. Nelson, who told internal affairs investigators he was trying to give Stockwell a trespass warning at the club's request, but she wouldn't identity herself. When he tried to arrest her, she resisted. He said things happened quickly, but he took her to the ground to gain better control.

A security guard told internal affairs investigators Stockwell, then 18, was part of a group taking shots from a bottle of Fireball in an outside bar. She said in her deposition she used a fake ID to get into the club. She had been escorted from the club, but kept coming back, according to the guard.

A Tampa police training officer who reviewed video of the incident said the amount of force Nelson used "wasn't the most appropriate," and that he could have used another method to get Stockwell to comply.

In a memo to the council, assistant city attorney Ursula Richardson said the city denies any liability as a result of the arrest, but she recommended settling the case.

If the case went to trial, she said, it would be likely that Stockwell would win a verdict bigger than the settlement.

Panhandling case legal bill: $50,000

In a separate vote, the council agreed to pay another $50,000 settlement in the federal Homeless Helping Homeless lawsuit.

The money will cover attorney fees to the Boston law firm that successfully challenged the city's panhandling ordinance on behalf of the charity.

Last month, a federal judge ruled that a city ordinance banning panhandlers from begging for money downtown and in Ybor City was an unconstitutional infringement on the First Amendment.

City officials have decided not to appeal.

A separate ban on aggressive panhandling — such as acting in a threatening way, continuing to demand money after someone who says no or blocking someone's path — remains in effect.

Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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