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Report: Officers' response justified

Police Chief Sid Klein said officers involved in the June arrest of Joe Walden used ''remarkable restraint.''

By LEON M. TUCKER, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 23, 2002

Police Chief Sid Klein said officers involved in the June arrest of Joe Walden used "remarkable restraint."

CLEARWATER -- Four police officers have been cleared in an internal affairs report of accusations of using excessive force in the June arrest of Joe Walden.

"Nothing was found," Clearwater Police spokesman Wayne Shelor said of the four-month internal affairs investigation. "Nobody did anything at all wrong."

The investigative report identified the officers involved in the investigation as Benjamin Hailey, Natalie Pehote, Sean Allaster and Terri Naumann.

But in a letter addressed to Walden on Tuesday, Police Chief Sid Klein referred to the actions of only two officers and wrote that "the investigation revealed conclusively that there was no improper conduct on the part of the officers."

The letter said "... it's clear the officers acted with professionalism and used remarkable restraint in the face of your words and actions."

Walden's mother was angry with the decision.

"I'm mad," Sabrina Walden said. "That's not right, them throwing him on the ground is not justifiable."

Walden could not be reached.

The investigation stemmed from a June 17 incident during which Walden said he approached the two officers outside the Ross Norton Recreation Complex as they were checking out his car.

One officer, he said, told him the silver 2001 Chevrolet Impala parked there was stolen.

The car was not stolen and belongs to Walden.

Two police reports state that Walden lunged at a female officer, forcing police to arrest him.

But Walden denied he lunged at anyone. His boxing coach, Ben Getty, and Safety Harbor City Commissioner Robin Borland -- who was training at the Ross Norton complex that day -- said police used excessive force, knocking Walden to the ground, handcuffing him and, eventually, taking him to jail.

The State Attorney's Office in August decided not to file charges that Walden acted in a disorderly fashion and resisted arrest outside the South Greenwood recreation center.

"I think that's interesting that (Klein) would say that," Borland said of the decision. "I'll stick to my story of what I saw because I know what I saw. I think it was a little harsh."

"But what's important is that the charges were dropped," she said.

Police officials had said the investigation had stalled because Walden's attorney, Darryl Rouson, would not allow him to speak to police until the State Attorney's Office decided whether to charge Walden.

Following the State Attorney's decision, Walden met with internal affairs investigators last month and gave a statement.

Rouson, who said Walden pleaded no contest Tuesday to a citation that he improperly displayed a license plate in the window of his car, said the family will continue pursuing a civil lawsuit against the city.

"It doesn't matter," Rouson said of the outcome of the investigation. "Internal affairs has the right to investigate the conduct of it's officers and make a determination on their actions ... . We have the opportunity for a jury to hear the facts and make its own, independent decision on what occurred."

-- Staff writer Chris Tisch contributed to this report. Leon M. Tucker can be reached at 445-4167 or .

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