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Report: Officers were too rough

Two Tampa officers caught on tape throwing a suspect into a truck will be punished for using excessive force.

By KATHRYN WEXLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 26, 2000


TAMPA -- Two Tampa police officers caught on videotape thrusting a handcuffed suspect headfirst into the bed of a pickup were too rough, according to an Internal Affairs report released Tuesday.

Officers David DiMarco and James Bryan III violated department policy when they flipped Robert Wayne Nelson into the truck on Dec. 16, police officials concluded.

"It's now at the discipline level," said police spokesman Joe Durkin, "and discipline can range from a letter of counseling up to dismissal."

The incident was taped by WTVT-Ch. 13. The police department had invited the media to document a drug sweep of the Scruggs Manor apartment complex on N 22nd Street and E Fowler Avenue, near the University of South Florida.

The Internal Affairs report examines the roles of many officers involved in Nelson's arrest after he and his girlfriend allegedly bought $30 worth of crack cocaine from undercover police.

All the officers were cleared except for DiMarco and Bryan, who have been placed on administrative duty.

Nelson never denied he purchased the drugs or ran from police. But he said he was beaten by police without cause when they caught him in a nearby field.

Police said Nelson wouldn't comply with their orders so they had to get physical during the actual arrest, which was not recorded by WTVT-Ch. 13.

DiMarco and Bryan denied they intended to hurt Nelson when they tossed him into the truck. They said they overestimated the heave needed to lift Nelson, whose weight according to jail records was 165 pounds.

Attorney Donald Foster, who represented Nelson on previous criminal charges, said Nelson called him from jail soon after his December arrest.

"He had the jaw bone broken," Foster said. "They had to operate."

Nelson's jaw still has an audible click, Foster said, and some broken teeth have not be fixed.

Foster plans to file a lawsuit alleging civil rights violations.

In February, late State Attorney Harry Lee Coe III cleared DiMarco and Bryan of criminal wrongdoing. Coe overruled 11 prosecutors in his office who wanted to charge the officers.

The Internal Affairs report said Nelson told detectives he dropped to the ground compliantly, but police pummeled him anyway. In order to intimidate him, he said, they boasted they'd just killed someone.

One officer said he thought he heard the threat but didn't know who said it.

Nelson also claimed he was punched later while being driven in the pickup truck.

Three officers who arrested Nelson after the foot chase said they feared Nelson had a weapon when he dropped to the ground because he kept his arms tightly beneath his body.

DiMarco reached Nelson first, the report said, and "administered two or three reaction punches to the face," after Nelson refused to put his hands on his head. DiMarco also knocked Nelson in the shoulder two or three times with his knee.

Police officials called DiMarco's blows to Nelson's face "inappropriate," saying he used "improper and lesser preferred techniques," but did not sustain that particular allegation of excessive force.

Officer Charles Hicks told detectives he punched Nelson twice in his left ribs until he could pry Nelson's arm out from under him. Officer Jarrett Seal told them he punched Nelson three times in the shoulder.

The report said Nelson's allegation that he was beaten during the ride was disputed by video. It also said Nelson, who has a long history of arrests, admitted to having smoked crack cocaine before the arrest. Nelson said he couldn't remember the entire incident because he was dazed.

Police initially charged Nelson with 17 offenses, ranging from aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer to possession of cocaine. Foster said Nelson eventually pleaded guilty to three charges and now is in state prison.

-- Kathryn Wexler can be reached at (813) 226-3386 or wexler@sptimes.com.

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