City not liable in officer's death
A jury took less than three hours to clear the Tampa Police Department of liability in Officer Lois Marrero's death.
By KEVIN GRAHAM
Published January 27, 2006
TAMPA - For two weeks, officer Lois Marrero's family sat in court fighting back tears, hearing Tampa police speak of her death, enduring the city's claims that she bore the blame.
On Thursday, the family left a Hillsborough County courtroom empty-handed. They had asked for nearly $1-million in specified damages and hoped for more to compensate for their anguish.
It took jurors less than three hours to clear the city in Marrero's shooting death on July 6, 2001.
"We were really attached to the family and all that, but ultimately, the evidence did not prove any negligence on the part of the Tampa police," said David C. Miranda, the jury's foreman.
Richard Hirsch, attorney for the slain officer's family, said they had already won on one front, despite the jury's verdict.
"This was never, for the family, about money," said Hirsch, who represented Brenda Marrero, Lois Marrero's sister, and her divorced parents William and Maria Marrero.
"This was, for the family, about changing practices and procedures."
At the center of the civil lawsuit was the issue of an absent observer in a Tampa police helicopter the day a bank robber shot Marrero outside a South Tampa apartment complex. Hirsch said pilot J.T. Martin should have had a second set of eyes and ears to help him listen to communications over the police radio.
A month after Marrero's death, the Tampa Police Department amended its policy, mandating that every time a pilot goes up in a helicopter, an observer goes too. Circuit Judge James D. Arnold would not allow testimony about changes at the department since Marrero's shooting. Hirsch said that's one point he'll review in determining whether to appeal.
The family also focused on the lack of a supervisor to take charge of the search for bank robber Nestor DeJesus as Marrero chased him on foot. A superior should have called for a perimeter to contain DeJesus, plaintiffs argued. Defense testimony said that the job of setting up a perimeter fell to the first-responding officer - in this case, Marrero. She never called for one.
"At the end of the day, it wasn't the city's fault," said Assistant City Attorney Ursula Richardson.
During closing statements, Richardson asked jurors to separate their emotions from the facts of the case.
"This is the kind of case that pulls at your heart, and it can't help but pull at your heart strings because it's sad, it's tragic and it's senseless," she said. "But this trial is about responsibility."
She called Hirsch's arguments "sensational" when he talked about Marrero going to the Crossings Apartments without police backup, where DeJesus shot her.
"Officer Marrero did her duty by trying to apprehend this suspect, and she had no help," Hirsch said during the trial. "She had no supervision. She was there by her lonesome. And she didn't know it."
Richardson countered that argument by saying that as an 18-year veteran, Marrero needed no supervision.
"It sounds emotional and sensational to say they sent her there alone," Richardson said. "They sent a trained killing machine."
Hirsch objected to Richardson's characterization of Marrero.
"To demonize her as the city has done in this case is disgraceful," he told jurors.
Hirsch represented the Marrero family on a contingency basis.
"We took it because we thought they had a right to have their case tried," he said.
Hirsch said he plans to further research the police communication system for a possible appeal. He said he couldn't prove in court whether police radios worked properly when Marrero was killed, because the city has said it does not keep those repair records.
After shooting Marrero, DeJesus and his fellow bank robber and girlfriend Paula Gutierrez retreated to an apartment. DeJesus killed himself as police tried to convince him to surrender. Gutierrez is serving a life sentence in state prison.
Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this story. Kevin Graham can be reached at 813 226-3433 or email@example.com
[Last modified January 27, 2006, 01:20:12]
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