tampabay.com

Off-duty cop roughed up boy, dad says

He files a restraining order against the officer, whose attorney says he acted correctly.

By REBECCA CATALANELLO, Times Staff Writer
Published October 12, 2007


TAMPA - The father of a 17-year-old boy has filed a restraining order against a Tampa police corporal he says shoved his son's face into the dirt and stuck a Taser gun to his neck while accusing him of trespassing.

Cpl. Gene Strickland was off duty Oct. 2 when he detained two teenagers after he spotted them crossing his neighbor's property at 8011 N Fork Road in Lithia, according to a Hillsborough sheriff's report.

Strickland, 51, told a sheriff's deputy he was keeping an eye on the property at the request of owner Dorothy Ann Link, 79.

When he saw Donny Lunsford, 17, and his 15-year-old friend on Link's property, he ordered them to leave. When they didn't, he went inside, strapped on his gun belt, came back out and told them to sit.

One obeyed, he said. The other "bowed up," so he pulled out his Taser gun, called 911 and held them until a deputy arrived to issue the boys trespass warnings.

According to the 17-year-old, however, Strickland stuck the gun in his neck and threw him to the ground.

Now, Donald "Lee" Lunsford, 40, is asking a judge to remove Strickland's guns from his possession. "My son is scared to death he will shoot him," he wrote in the restraining order request.

Attorney Chip Purcell said Strickland behaved as he should. "He acted absolutely 100 percent correctly," Purcell said.

In the 911 call, Strickland is heard shushing the boys, ordering one to "quit engaging your lip." When the 911 operator asks him if he has a weapon drawn, Strickland answers, "Me? Yes," and tells her about his gun belt.

Purcell said his client ordered the boys to get off the property twice before he approached. He said he held them because it was the only way deputies could issue a trespass warning.

The attorney disputes Lunsford's account that the corporal stuck the Taser in the boy's neck. Rather, he said, he pulled it from his holster with one hand and held out his other hand to hold the boy at a distance.

Donny Lunsford was confined to a wheelchair for some time following a July 12 accident, his father said.

The morning before his 5 p.m. confrontation with Strickland, he'd had pins removed from his arm and was eager to go down to the Alafia River with his buddy.

The boys have been using the path along Link's property for years with permission from Link's now deceased husband, Lee, Lunsford said.

On the 911 tape, Donny Lunsford can be heard complaining about his arm.

"Your arm was already hurt," Strickland says in response.

After the incident, the 17-year-old got another cast.

"I haven't never had an issue with Gene," the father said Thursday. But now, Lee Lunsford said he's had several neighbors tell him they've found themselves in similar situations with the 26-year Tampa Police Department veteran.

Strickland was demoted last year from the rank of sergeant after an Internal Affairs investigation found he didn't take appropriate steps to stop sexual harassment on his squad.

Despite that situation, Strickland's personnel file is stuffed with kudos. On a January evaluation, Chief Stephen Hogue scribbled a note of praise in the margin: "Detective Strickland has maintained an outstanding work ethic and attitude during this difficult time after his demotion. He has earned my respect. ..."

Both boys' parents have filed internal affairs complaints. Department policy prohibits officers from using their credentials to resolve personal issues except in a serious offense.

Purcell said Strickland didn't misuse his power. Strickland, he points out, says so in the 911 tape: "I'm not doing my job," he says. "Right now I'm being a homeowner, buddy."