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Claim of excessive use of force is upheld

Largo's police chief decides that an investigation shows an officer acted improperly in handcuffing a boy. The officer will be disciplined later.

By JANE MEINHARDT

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2000


LARGO -- Police Chief Jerry Bloechle has ruled that a veteran Largo officer acted improperly when he detained and handcuffed a 14-year-old boy during the city's millennium celebration.

After an internal investigation, Bloechle concluded Tuesday that Officer Allan Rothberg used excessive force, violated the boy's constitutional rights and made false or misleading statements.

The officer's chain-of-command has to review the report before any disciplinary action is decided. Rothberg, a Largo officer for 10 years, is on paid administrative leave.

The boy's name was withheld, pending completion of the disciplinary review.

Bill LauBach, Police Benevolent Association director and Rothberg's union representative during the investigation, said he would withhold comment until Rothberg is disciplined. Through LauBach, Rothberg declined to comment.

Rothberg was on bicycle patrol during the New Year's event at Largo Central Park. He told investigators the boy aggressively pushed through the crowd and laughed when he saw Rothberg looking at him. Rothberg said he asked the boy what the problem was and then got off his bicycle when the boy approached him quickly in a threatening manner, according to the internal investigation report.

Rothberg told investigators and other officers at the park that the boy "got in his face," the report said. Investigators found that Rothberg grabbed him, twisted his right arm behind his back and held him against the wall of the Cultural Center.

The boy told investigators Rothberg pushed him against the wall, causing a small scrape on the side of his face. Other officers who arrived to help saw little resistance from the boy, but Rothberg searched and handcuffed him, the report said.

Sgt. Andy Hill told investigators that there was "no resistance that warranted the juvenile being handcuffed unless there were a criminal charge." Rothberg said another sergeant told him to handcuff the boy, but that sergeant and other officers denied it.

Rothberg escorted the handcuffed boy to the police command bus, where a lieutenant asked him what the boy was charged with. Rothberg then released the boy without charging him.

According to department guidelines, disciplinary action against Rothberg could range from a reprimand to dismissal. In 1993, he was reprimanded for violating use of force rules and suspended for a day for unbecoming conduct, police records show. He was suspended for three days in 1997 for poor performance and unbecoming conduct.

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