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Clearwater will dig deeper for legal bills

Defending against a wrongful-death lawsuit in a police shooting will top $500,000.

By MIKE DONILA
Published July 31, 2007


The family of John Crouch, who was killed outside a restaurant in 1991 by a Clearwater officer, is expected to file a federal suit.
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[Special to the Times]
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Clearwater's most expensive lawsuit ever is about to get even costlier.

Local leaders agreed Monday to set aside another $100,000 to cover the city's legal expenses in a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the family of a 25-year-old man fatally shot by a police officer nearly 16 years ago.

The city so far has spent $409,755.76 defending itself.

The additional $100,000 will pay for attorneys' costs incurred in a state trial the city won last week, as well as a federal lawsuit that the family is expected to file against the city soon.

The city is represented by the law firm of Thompson, Goodis, Thompson, Groseclose & Richardson, which has offices in St. Petersburg and Bradenton.

"It was something I wish we could avoid, but when you get sued, you've got to defend yourself ... and we wanted the right people defending us," Mayor Frank Hibbard said after the City Council meeting.

The mayor defended the high costs, saying the family wanted "millions" to settle.

The case stems from the August 1991 fatal shooting of John Paul Crouch by then-police Officer Robert Milliron.

The family first sued the city in state court, contending the Police Department didn't properly train Milliron and that he should have been fired long before their son's fatal encounter with him.

The trial in state court had been postponed a number of times over the years.

At one point a new judge was assigned to the case, which required rehearings and more interviews with witnesses. And one time an entire jury panel was dismissed, causing even further delays.

In addition, the parents, Jake and Paula Crouch, have declined mediation, arbitration and a $75,000 settlement, saying they want the world to know their son didn't do anything wrong and that he should never have been shot.

The couple reiterated Monday they wouldn't have accepted a settlement, but declined to comment about the city's expenses.

The case finally went to trial July 16 and wrapped up last week. A jury decided that Milliron was wrong to shoot Crouch, but the city was not negligent.

The family is expected to sue in federal court, saying Crouch's civil rights were violated.

Although the family initially asked for $9-million in state court, they were guaranteed only $200,000 if they won because the city is protected by sovereign immunity against having to pay out judgments larger than that. To get the full amount, the couple would need the state Legislature to pass a claims bill granting them the remainder of any verdict.

But the city is not so protected if it loses a federal case, and the couple could claim the full amount.

Milliron shot John Paul Crouch once in the chest Aug. 16, 1991.

Crouch, an assistant manager at a Gulfport Winn-Dixie, died minutes later.

At the time Crouch was at his brother Jacob's bachelor party at Joe Dugan's, a restaurant off Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard.

The group was in the parking lot a little before 2 a.m. when Jacob got into a fight with a stranger. Milliron, in the area at the time, tried to break it up.

The officer says John Crouch struck him and, as he headed for his police cruiser, Crouch followed him with fists clenched.

Milliron says he shot after warning him several times to stop.

Other witnesses, though, say someone else hit Milliron, and Crouch approached him, palms out in a position to surrender.

Mike Donila can be reached at 727 445-4160 or mdonila@sptimes.com

[Last modified July 30, 2007, 20:23:17]


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