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New Port Richey officers broke man’s jaw in wrongful arrest, lawsuit alleges

Pedro Perez says officers took him to the ground, then punched and kicked him in the face, during an arrest that a judge later threw out.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Everyone agreed: Pedro Perez’s mouth was bleeding.

Not everything lined up in the stories, one told by Perez and his attorneys, another by the New Port Richey Police officers who arrested him on Oct. 2, 2016. But the injuries to Perez — which he says include a broken jaw and broken teeth — are the central feature of a federal lawsuit, filed Sept. 25, in which Perez alleges officers used excessive force, battered him and wrongfully arrested him.

The suit names two then-rookie cops, Anthony Kasperitis and Joseph Valente, as well as the New Port Richey Police Department and the city itself. It also alleges malicious prosecution by Kasperitis, who wrote the police report on Perez’s arrest that led to prosecutors filing charges, and negligent hiring by the police department and city.

On the day of the arrest, court records show, Perez, then 28, was riding in the back seat of a Dodge Charger, along with the driver and one other passenger. A New Port Richey officer tried to pull the car over for crossing a white line at a stoplight and possibly having illegal window tint, but the driver kept going; Kasperitis' report characterized it as a “high speed pursuit.” It ended in the parking lot of an auto repair shop on Massachusetts Avenue, where police said the driver crashed into another car and Perez’s lawyers said it slowed to a stop (in earlier motions, the lawyers did not dispute that the car crashed).

The driver and other passenger fled, both sides agree. Perez said he stood outside the car, according to the lawsuit. Kasperitis said he arrived at the scene, after the pursuing officer called for backup, and found Perez walking away from the car. He said he yelled at Perez to get on the ground, but Perez kept walking away. Then he took Perez to the ground.

Valente arrived on the scene, according to the report. They worked to handcuff Perez, whom they accused of resisting. While he was on the ground, he alleges, Kasperitis and Valente punched or kicked him.

“I observed some blood on the ground where (Perez) was fighting with us,” Kasperitis wrote in his report. “(Perez) stated that he had been kicked in the face by one of the officers.”

Kasperitis took Perez to a nearby hospital, he wrote, and decided to mail Perez a notice to appear in court rather than taking him to jail. According to the lawsuit, surgeons had to permanently put two metal plates and six metal screws in Perez’s mouth to treat his injuries.

The following month, prosecutors filed the resisting arrest charge against Perez based on Kasperitis' report. In May 2018, Perez’s lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the case, and a Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court judge agreed: Officers needed a good reason to detain Perez, and they didn’t have one. The State Attorney’s Office appealed, but an appellate court upheld the dismissal.

“Kasperitis and Valente had no reason to arrest, detain, or even lay one finger on (Perez)," Perez’s lawyers wrote in the suit filed last month.

Perez, 32, of Port Richey, is seeking damages in excess of $75,000 from each of the parties named in the suit.

Perez’s attorneys, Robert D. Sparks and Garrett Riley of Robert Sparks Attorneys in Tampa, were in a meeting and were not available for comment Wednesday, according to their office. Neither returned a message left for them.

New Port Richey City Manager Debbie Manns said neither the city nor police department could comment on ongoing litigation. She confirmed that both Kasperitis and Valente still work for the police department.

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