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Bar owner loses civil suit, but is satisfied

John Susor already won the criminal case that arose from his 1997 fight with two Indian Shores police officers.

By AMY WIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 28, 2001


INDIAN SHORES -- The score is now even between the town and John Susor, the Ernest Hemingway look-alike who advertises his restaurant as having "the worst food on the beech."

A federal jury on Thursday ruled in Indian Shores' favor in a lawsuit that Susor filed in 1999. Susor accused police officers of violating his civil rights during a 1997 arrest that left Susor in the hospital for two days.

The bar owner already won in criminal court; now the city has won the civil case.

"I have no malice," Susor said Friday. "I won one, and I lost one. That's all I can say."

The 1997 incident that produced the lawsuit remains the most infamous between the town and Susor, an 82-year-old cantankerous barkeeper and occasional political candidate.

The trouble started when Susor threw a paper wad at Sgt. Leo Yates and Officer George Ruppert.

The officers had stopped by Susor's restaurant, Mahuffer's Bar, to question him about a vandalism complaint. While they were dealing with a separate incident in front of the bar, Susor threw the piece of paper at them and, in the words of his lawsuit, told the officers they could "insert the note in a specific part of their anatomy."

"They tried to take him down, but John fought like he normally does," police Chief E.D. Williams said at the time.

Susor sustained a number of injuries in the scuffle, including a hole in his lower intestine, torn rotator cuffs in his shoulders, and injuries to his head, back and neck, according to the lawsuit he filed.

Also injured was Ruppert, one of the officers, who later filed for disability, the police chief said. Yates, the other officer involved, still works for the Indian Shores Police Department.

Susor, 77 at the time of the tussle, wore a neck brace for his mugshot at the Pinellas County Jail. He was charged with resisting arrest with violence, assault on a law enforcement officer, unlawful attempt to take a law enforcement officer's gun and attempted use of a firearm.

"This is all political," he said at the time. "They're just trying to shut me up."

Susor eventually was found innocent of all charges, a fact that brings him solace. "I, personally, am satisfied with winning the first battle," he said Friday.

He said he believes the city police would like to see him convicted of a felony to put his liquor license in jeopardy.

Susor, who has lived in Indian Shores for more than 40 years, frequently has run for Town Council. His dogs and cats freely roam Mahuffer's, and his home is attached to the restaurant.

Susor said he was upset the city did not try to negotiate with him before he formally filed the lawsuit.

But the police chief said that multiple efforts to mediate through the courts failed.

Still, the relationship between Susor and the town has calmed during the years since his arrest, town officials say. They believe advice from attorneys had something to do with that.

"It's been the best five years of my life," Williams said.

Susor said he is unsure why he and the city don't spar like they used to.

"I walk like an old man," said Susor, rising from his chair to demonstrate. "I can't walk right because my feet hurt, but they're scared of me."

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