Tampa to settle search lawsuit

Melvonia Johns says she didn't agree to a search of her home.

Published April 24, 2007

TAMPA - Tampa police came into Melvonia Johns' home without a search warrant, accusing her of hiding illegal drugs.

A detective handcuffed her, locked her in a bedroom in front of her two children and searched her home. He found no drugs.

Now, the city has tentatively agreed to settle Johns' federal lawsuit for $65,000. The agreement was signed in court April 3. It awaits final approval by the Tampa City Council.

"Before this happened, I would say that the police, I would think, are people of authority, people you would expect to set an example," said Johns, 40. "It's very traumatizing to be victimized by an authority figure."

The suit, filed in federal court in 2004, claims that Johns and her two daughters were "threatened, handcuffed, battered and searched" by police in 2000.

The officers were not disciplined by the Police Department's internal affairs bureau. But all involved were required to go through extra training on searches, said police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

Although the suit named 11 officers, it put much of the blame on Detective Paul Miller. Johns said Miller handcuffed her and locked her in the bedroom. She said he wouldn't listen when she demanded he either show her a search warrant or leave the property.

Miller told his supervisors Johns gave him permission to search her home, but he never got anything in writing, McElroy said. Officers now must get signed forms before searching homes.

Miller left the department in 2003. He retired amid an investigation, accused of fighting at a Brandon shopping mall, McElroy said. Prosecutors filed battery charges against Miller, but the charges were dropped.

News researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at (813) 226-3373.