TAMPA — Jordon Coury was one man in a sea of hundreds marching through downtown Tampa on May 31, praying, crying and cursing at Tampa police officers while demanding justice for George Floyd.
For hours, police in riot gear monitored the ebb and flow of the group. Then, as the sun began to set on a sweltering day over Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, a shaky cell phone video showed one police officer fire off rubber bullets, sparking an explosion of chaos as hundreds of people ran for cover.
Coury, 25, an Army reservist and former Marine, was in the park with his girlfriend, trying to help fellow protesters find safety, he said in a new lawsuit. Then, one of the bullets struck the back of Coury’s head, drilling a small hole through his skull and sending him to the ground vomiting, the lawsuit said.
Filed earlier this month in Hillsborough Circuit Court, the lawsuit accuses the city of Tampa of negligence and excessive force against a crowd it describes as “peaceful protesters.”
Coury seeks money from the city for damages and for medical treatment of what he describes as traumatic brain injury.
“I mean, he’s definitely lucky to be alive,” Coury’s lawyer, Brian M. Giddings, told the Tampa Bay Times. “He’s definitely not doing well. He’s definitely not the same person he was prior to his injuries, and his injuries are profound.”
Giddings said video evidence shows Coury wasn’t provoking the officer who fired and hit him from about 30 feet away. Since the shooting, Coury has lost his job with a Brandon-area auto mechanic and has been unable to find another, Giddings said. He suffers from memory loss, sudden outbursts of anger, sensiticity to sunlight and a loss of his fine motor skills.
“Now he just carries around this intense frustration because he feels like he was an innocent bystander and for no reason he was shot in the head with a rubber bullet that almost killed him and nobody cares,” Giddings said.
Police spokeswoman Janelle McGregor told the Times that the city has no comment on the lawsuit because it is against city policy to talk about pending litigation. Florida law caps damages the city would have to pay in a civil suit at $200,000, Giddings said.
The lawsuit doesn’t name members of the Tampa Police Department. Instead, it claims the city was “negligent in failing to vet, train, supervise, and/or direct its officers in how to handle a peaceful crowd in tumultuous times.”
Only one officer fired bullets in the lawsuit’s narrative, but other officers may have been negligent for failing to stop him, the lawsuit said. After watching videos of the incident, Giddings said, he believes the officer began firing into the crowd after a protester threw a water bottle toward a line of officers.
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Sometimes described as “less-lethal” weapons, rubber bullets are often made with a metal core and, when fired from a high-velocity rifle, can cause injury or death, according to a report from the National Institutes of Health. There are no national standards for their use among local law enforcement agencies.
The day before the rally where Coury was injured, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and Police Chief Brian Dugan joined in marches to protest Floyd’s death May 25 while in police custody. Former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin is standing trial this week in the death.
But later in the evening of May 31, Castor said at the time, something changed as crowds of previously peaceful demonstrators began throwing “fireworks, glass bottles and rocks.”
Officers arrested 41 people during violence centered around the University Mall area along Fowler Avenue in north Tampa. About 40 businesses were damaged and looted and five were set on fire. Twenty-seven police vehicles were damaged and a Tampa officer suffered minor burns from a mortar.
When Coury and hundreds of others began protesting downtown the next day, they were met by law enforcement officers seeking to head off more destruction. Castor and Dugan held a press conference, urging peaceful protesters to “stay home” and warning that “physical violence and looting are not the answer, they are simply criminal behavior.”
That night, as Coury lay on the ground, protesters and not police called for Tampa medics to treat him, Giddings said. The only response he has received from the city, Giddings said, was a letter from Castor’s office saying she had no information about the incident and that the officer involved has not been the subject of any internal affairs review.